In the party reorganisations following the wipe out that was the SNP majority victory in the 2011 Scottish Election, the Liberal Democrats installed a new leader. Willie Rennie was virtually their last man standing and their hope as the cure for political reflux.
The Scottish Conservative and Unionist party now have its new leader, Ruth Davidson, after having looked into the abyss with Murdo Fraser’s dissolution proposition.
Next up in the renewal challenge stakes is the Scottish Labour party, which has done a lot of navel gazing to no immediately obvious effect.
Its London HQ appeared to think that, in this revision, there should be a serious distancing of the Scottish operation from Westminster and that the party here should develop a distinctly Scottish identity.
But old habits die hard and the notion of a new identity seems not to be grounded in any apparent, never mind substantial, strategic situation analysis or policy review.
The party seems feebly to be hoping that this will all come from their new leader and deputy leader – yet none of them has yet given any sign that they have such a capacity.
Among the three contestants for the leadership are two sitting MSPs – one a senior party figure (Johann Lamont) and one a relative but not inexperienced newbie (Ken Mackintosh). Both have already failed to make an impact on their party’s nature and direction. The third hopeful is an MP (Tom Harris) who has chosen, before and now, not to commit to Scotland.
Mr Harris could have stood as a candidate in the Scottish elections in May this year. But no
He could stand down from Westminster at once, if he prevailed in the internal vote for the Scottish leadership. But he has no intention of doing that and has instead proclaimed the manageability of doing both jobs simultaneously, at least until 2015, the declared date for the next UK General Election. He hasn’t a hope and his obvious self-interest, as against his care for his party’s reinvigoration in Scotland is not the new fuel Labour needs. It’s the old recipe.
In the contest for the Deputy Leadership, there are now two MPs, Anas Sarwar (son of Mohammed, whose seat in Glasgow Central he inherited) and Ian Davidson, the recent subject of squeals of verbal bullying from the SNP’s delicate flower, Dr Eilidh Whiteford); and NE Scotland List MSP, Lewis Macdonald, a former deputy minister in the two post-devolution Labour/LibDem Scottish Executives.
This overall picture does not much relate to the London HQ view that the Scottish party should be distinct from and distanced from the metropolitan London base of the party.
Both MP’s standing for the Deputy Leadership could, like Mr Harris, have nailed their colours to the thistle and stood in the 2011 Scottish Elections.
Political gossip suggests that, whoever wins the Leadership (and that is unlikely to be Harris – who, whatever his equivocations is arguably the most able of the three), the Deputy Leader will be an MP.
None of this chimes with the notion of a Scottish party in serious internal reinvention.
Being a reliable old hand, like Johan Lamont or being a new and younger blood, like Ken Mackintosh, does not shout distinctive new policies and political stategies at a largely uninterested electorate.
At least Murdo Fraser made the Scottish Tories contest an enduringly interesting one. Not one of the Labour candidates could light a camp fire any better than could the hapless Iain Gray – and their second in command will still be London-based and London-listening.
If the party that gave us Robin Cook, John Smith, Brian Wilson, John Reid and has sidelined Henry McLeish, Susan Deacon and Malcolm Chisholm at home – cannot do better than this, it is out of power in Scotland for at least another ten years. Where will the voice for an intelligent social justice agenda in this country come from?.