There is currently an eerie parallel between politics in Scotland and politics in the US.
In both countries the centre right, or the soft right as I refer to call it, is in crisis. At least in Scotland there is one politician of credibility – Murdo Fraser – who is not in denial about the crisis and is commendably trying to do something bold about it.
In the US, which is obviously more important from a global perspective, nobody, absolutely nobody, in the Republican Party seems capable of showing any real leadership credibility.
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Many people sighed with relief when the egregious Sarah Palin announced that she was not standing as a presidential candidate, but I’m not convinced that the potential Republican leaders who are still running are that much better. Up ahead is Mitt Romney; he’s certainly experienced, but his speeches are depressing. Indeed one he delivered 10 days ago was downright disgraceful.
Mr Romney demanded “a century of US dominance”. He showed contempt for the UN, saying he would reject it “when necessary”. He claimed the US had the strongest military in the world, which may still be just about true, and that it was the strongest economy in the world, which manifestly isn’t true, given the extent to which America is in hock to China.
The role of the dollar as the world’s preferred reserve currency is masking the collapse of US economic power, but the dollar’s hegemony won’t last much longer.
Mr Romney, a Mormon who once worked as a missionary in France, announced pompously that “God did not create this nation to be a nation of followers”. That is not a version of Christianity I accept; I don’t recognise that God. Indeed the speech was full of vainglorious posturing at the very time when Americans need a strong dose of realism.
Barack Obama has been weak and disappointing, but by no means a disastrous president. His main failing is that he tries too hard to be consensual, and there are worse faults.
Money plays a distressingly important role in US presidential elections and Mr Obama is already sitting on a huge fighting fund – and even better for him, he doesn’t have to worry about seeing off a Primary opponent. He can sit on his cash pile till the fight with the Republican candidate begins in earnest.
Who will that be? Romney remains in pole position, but a politician who has been around for so long yet consistently struggles to gain more than 25% support in his own party looks anything but a leader. The candidate Mr Obama apparently fears is Jon Huntsman, another former Mormon missionary, who is charismatic and cerebral – but has made little impact.
The surgeon-economist Ron Paul can talk a lot of folksy sense, but at the same time some of his policies are very eccentric. Rick Perry from Texas was built up only to fall way before the contest had properly started. Newt Gingrich has been around Washington for ages but cannot connect with Middle America.
Who else? Step forward Herman Cain, who seems enormously engaging. He has a good “back story”. He was born in poverty – though he has been careful not to exaggerate this – in the Deep South.
His father was a barber, his mother a cleaner. Mr Cain was brainy and energetic; he worked his way through the ranks at Burger King and became boss of a pizza franchise. He knows about business, and the kind of business Americans instinctively like. He is black, he is genial, he has beaten cancer, he is a fine gospel singer.
Pretty good, so far: but where’s the money, what are the ideas? For a successful businessman, he does not seem adept at raising funds. Worse, the few policies he has so far outlined resonate well with the Tea Party. And does he know much more about the wider world than Sarah Palin?
All this means the soft right in America, a huge and potentially turbulent and dangerous constituency, is rudderless and leaderless. That’s bad news for all of us.