I'm not a fully au fait with the ins and outs of Scottish politics, but even from the far distance of sunny Stoke-on-Trent three things stand out. That Johann Lamont's tenure at the helm hasn't been altogether inspiring. That the 'B team' stay at home in Holyrood while the opposite is true of the SNP. That Scottish Labour is facing a growing crisis that could cost the Britain-wide party next year's general election. It stands to reason that a change in personnel and politics is all that can turn the situation around, and, unfortunately, the two cannot be separated.
Consider the Westminster big beasts in the frame. In the purpley Progress corner is Jim Murphy. From an impeccably working class background, he worked his way into Parliament via the NUS bureaucracy, skipping the Oxbridge-spaddery-Westminster route. Jim is also a very active constituency campaigner. If only every Labour MP had his hands-on attitude. Then in the rosy red old Laboury corner is the great clunking fist himself. Gordon Brown had a much better time of the Better Together campaign than did Alastair Darling and, it's probably fair to say this, his standing improved in Scotland at the very moment Labour's ratings have fallen into the toilet. Both men are capable of leading Scottish Labour. Whether they'd want to is one thing - Murphy fancies himself as a future Labour leader, after all. But they will have to take on a left-facing SNP, and there is little in their record that suggests they have the politics to do it.
Ah yes. Much has been made of the SNP's social democratic turn. Whether it's substantive or a skin deep cut of electoral posturing doesn't matter. That was before the referendum. Now it has a genuine centre left leader-in-waiting, and has been flooded with tens of thousands of leftwing supporters. Its policy platform is set to be embedded and consolidated in advance of 2015, barring some unforeseen and unlikely mass disillusionment on the part of its new members. The disaster is Scottish Labour allowed the SNP to roll their Tigers onto its social democratic turf, a catastrophe made all the more perplexing and unnecessary considering Labour has been in opposition for the last four years. Again, it appears from afar that instead rof trying to capitalise on the mild left mood amongst Scottish voters they sought to distance themselves from it. At times it appeared that Lamont - who was the 'left' candidate for the job by the way - was trying to pull off triangulation 1997-stylee, a spectacularly dumb approach to politics when the centre ground is shifting toward the concerns and interests of your core voters. But I refuse to believe this was the case. As Lamont critiques London for treating Scottish Labour like a branch office, the ostrich strategy pursued in Scotland is a likely product of England-centric, or more specifically marginal seat-centric thinking. Tacking left north of the border to prevent a flanking move by the nats would mean the adoption of policies that might scare the horses in the south eastern marginals. What we have is the bitter fruit of clever-clever manoeuvres in which the marginals are by no means a done deal, and the core vote has become the swing vote. Something Ed Miliband used to understand, once.
To be fair, the crisis afflicting Scottish Labour can't just be laid at the feet of the current tenants of One Brewer's Green. It goes back decades. As a formerly safe Labour zone many of its constituency parties have fallen prey to local cliques of self-appointed notables and regional machine politics. The vote has been taken for granted, the members are treated as voting and campaigning fodder - where the latter actually exists. And what it has become is a wizened old husk. It's far from being the incubator of a better politics that it needs to be. Yet that is what it and the rest of the Labour Party has to become, not only to win, but to survive.