It’s so undignified, to be ousted. So much better to go at a moment of your own choosing, like the Conservative Jackson Carlaw did. No leader wants to be dragged from the lectern.

Will that be Richard Leonard’s fate? We’ll see. What’s remarkable right now – awesome even – is the resilience of the Scottish Labour leader’s apparent conviction that everything is on track.

Labour may be at 14 per cent in the polls for Holyrood, down 10 since Mr Leonard took charge in 2017, but not to worry because he is “winning the battle of ideas”, he told The Herald this week.

Four of his fellow Labour MSPs have called for him to resign and two have quit their front bench posts, but we can be reassured that it’s they who are the problem, the hopeless malcontents, not Mr Leonard.

Things may look terminal for the party that once owned Scotland, but that’s all about to change. The veteran trade unionist’s lifelong goal of uniting workers in solidarity is finally within reach. “Entire industries are under threat,” he points out. It’s Labour, the party of trade unions, that will step in to provide leadership. This is it, this is their moment.

That’s the spin, but it’s about as convincing as Theresa May’s tortured prime ministerial grin. In the psychodrama of Scottish politics, Mr Leonard feels like a one-season wonder, there to provide a moral centre but outshone by the heavyweight principals. He’s a supporting actor, one who is at times enfeebled by a weak script, as demonstrated by last week’s rather troubling performance at First Minister’s Questions.

But his single biggest problem is that after three years in charge most voters have no opinion on him; many have no idea who he is. He’s struggled to land blows on the SNP and his beliefs in uniting Scots on the basis of class and prompting muscular trade unionism, while evidently sincere, have failed to cut through with a preoccupied electorate facing coronavirus, Brexit and the perennial question of independence.

I would argue it’s just too narrow a pitch, given the SNP’s dominance of former Labour heartlands, one that leaves out middle-class voters with centre left instincts who might be flirting with independence but want to know that there’s an alternative progressive home for them.

Hitting back at his detractors, Mr Leonard has warned that they could be deselected if that’s the will of members. One can understand his frustration but this attack does not come from a position of strength. However many messages of support he gets from a section of Labour’s membership, Labour’s lowly Scottish poll ratings speak for themselves. The apparent instinct to push out critics instead of listen to their concerns, is not reassuring.

So Richard Leonard should probably go, but let’s not kid ourselves that replacing him will solve Scottish Labour’s problems. They go a lot wider than that.

No matter who heads the party, he or she will face the same knotty problems as Mr Leonard has done. The first is the SNP’s hostile takeover of Labour’s political territory, which is now well-established. You can argue all you want about whether the SNP’s claim to represent working class interests is sincere or expedient; the fact is that the political map is now a slick of yellow and Labour are out in the cold. Having converted not just to the SNP but to independence, former Labour voters show no sign of wanting to return to their ex.

The second problem Labour face as a party opposed to independence is the Tory flavour of the pro-UK message, an idea seeded by the Yes campaign in 2014 in order to win over Labour supporters but then enthusiastically cultivated by the Conservatives themselves. The notion that if you back staying in the UK then you must be a Tory, is untrue, and puerile, and underhand, and diminishes the whole debate around independence, but it’s been outrageously effective. That message whacked Labour so hard in 2014 that they’re still seeing stars.

And the third problem is the banal but hugely consequential issue of the election calendar. Already Starmer, in the face of a hapless Tory government, has revived Labour’s fortunes to the point that the UK party is neck and neck with the Tories. I’m not daft enough to try and guess the outcome of the next General Election but it’s certainly possible that Starmer will swing it. Being part of a UK-wide party has often been a headache for Scottish Labour, but if Labour looks like being a winner at Westminster, with a popular leader, a progressive mandate and momentum in the polls, then that association becomes a boon as the General Election approaches. Nothing unites a party like the smell of success. It will help if, as seems likely, Labour is willing to consider a radical reshaping of the UK into a looser more federal system which could satisfy key swing voters who might otherwise vote for the SNP and independence.

Yet the election is so far off – scheduled for May 2024 – that we’re unlikely to see this effect in action until long after the Holyrood election and possibly after a second independence referendum too. The “loser” tag is likely to linger for Scottish Labour for some time. The timing of the General Election also makes it easy for Nicola Sturgeon to continue equating the UK with “Tory rule” in the run-up to that referendum.

How much harder that fight would be for the SNP if Starmer were Prime Minister. Such are the chances and happenstances that determine political fates.

All these problems will have to be overcome and they will not be easy for anyone. It’s not for nothing that Scottish Labour has had nine leaders in 20 years.

Having said all that, Richard Leonard is having trouble maximising Labour’s appeal at the polls. He says he has “faith” in Labour values and “faith” in its policies, but elections are an earthy business. They require chutzpah, a taste for sparring and a lot of determination. Either Labour needs a new Scottish leader, in short order, or Mr Leonard needs to find a whole new way of doing his job.

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