GERRY HASSAN Today we find out officially that Wendy Alexander is the only candidate to lead the Labour Party in Scotland. Wendy's elevation has big implications for Scottish Labour, the SNP and wider politics. She is the fourth Labour leader since the Scottish Parliament was established, not one of them with a proper election. There is a pattern here.

There is something in the body and soul of Scottish Labour that does not like or understand democracy. Four leaders, four coronations. There are some similarities with Gordon Brown's anointment. He professed his desire for a genuine contest, while his supporters did all they could to make one impossible. Alexander has done exactly the same; talking one way and doing the opposite, the only difference being that the Scottish Labour Party has never at any point embraced democracy.

If there is no contest, Alexander (as she must know) is weakened significantly vis-a-vis Alex Salmond. He will be able to say she has no mandate and point to Labour's wariness of its own membership. Paradoxically, not having a contest actually strengthens Alexander's hand inside the party. For a start, all the other possible contenders - Andy Kerr, Margaret Curran and others - ran for cover.

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Then there is the sad state of the Labour left that has no real influence or future. What clout can a section of the party have which cannot even raise six nominations to support a leadership challenge? The left's inability to persuade its colleagues only underlines its irrelevance and lack of support in the party.

If there had been a contest, particularly against a Campaign for Socialism candidate, Alexander would have been strengthened externally in her fight against the Nats. She would have won a mandate for change. At the same time, it is possible that, while a left candidate might not have won many votes, he or she may have won the debate, and so set down a marker to the limits of her agenda.

Alexander has become the front-runner in the past few weeks, despite the reservations of colleagues. First, there is her style: she lacks empathy, emollience and listening skills. Drew Westen, in his study of American politics, The Political Brain, shows that people want politicians who show emotions and feelings, rather than rationalism and facts. Alexander, like Brown and Hillary Clinton, does not score highly here.

Secondly, there is her time as a minister. Alexander has a record of not getting on with people she worked with, but that is said of many politicians. However, her ministerial record - the Glasgow housing stock transfer, Smart, Successful Scotland and the abolition of Section 28 - is patchy and reveals a significant lack of a political antenna.

In an age when the west has seen the diminution of the democratic impulse and emergence of a post-democratic order in which political, corporate and media forces collude to restrict and narrow the choices on offer, Alexander is like many senior Labour politicians: a product of this age. She has chosen to embrace the conventional wisdom as told by those with power who believe in the globalising, marketising mantra.

And, yet, politics is never as simple as it seems, otherwise nothing would ever change. The SNP may have defined the past few months, but there is already a degree of arrogance among some in the party in thinking Labour is finished.

The SNP is policy-lite, and its cupboard bare on education, health, social justice and other areas. Populism and not being Labour will only get it so far. Alexander has an opportunity here, if she can sense that the times are changing and reflect this. This would need to involve Labour understanding the merits of humility, and the limitations of both old-fashioned labourism and the marketising sensibilities she previously embraced.

This involves setting out a distinctive agenda in education and health, challenging the producer interests in the EIS and BMA which have large parts of the public sector sewn up, while recognising the perils of corporate capture and PFI. This new Scottish Labour narrative could be about involving people in public services: users, professionals and community in co-production.

Finally, there is the issue of social justice, which Labour presumptuously likes to think of as its own. This is a subject on which the SNP has little original to say and on which a Labour divested of Blairism could develop a popular agenda.

However, Scottish Labour is a party in dire need of a complete overhaul, whose vote and allure have been in slow decline for the past 40 years with large swathes of the membership in denial. There are still Labour dinosaurs who think the SNP will be out by Christmas and normal service will be resumed. Alexander faces opponents both in the parties that face her in the parliament, and within Labour itself. It is going to be a bumpy, uneasy ride ahead, but Labour has no other option than to change or wither. The issue is what kind of change. Gerry Hassan is a writer, commentator and editor of After Blair: Politics After The New Labour Decade (Lawrence and Wishart).