AUGUST is what is known in political circles as “silly season”.

With the deafening noise of parliamentary proceedings silenced, and many politicians and journalists swapping Twitter for Tuscany, the news reporting rulebook is tossed aside.

Stories can run for days on end when at other times of the year they might quickly disappear, or never make it above the fold in the broadsheets.

For those working in political communications behind the scenes, it can be both a blessing and a curse.

With strategic planning, the gap it creates can be exploited to hammer home a key message.

After its European election humiliation, the obvious gap for Scottish Labour was to become the pro-People’s Vote party, with a series of speeches, rallies and campaign events to highlight the party’s unswerving support for remaining in the EU.

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But, as reported in this newspaper earlier this month, that hasn’t happened. Richard Leonard’s promise that “Scottish Labour will wholeheartedly campaign for a Remain victory” hasn’t, so far, made it much further than a solitary press release.

And the problem when you don’t fill the summer gap with your own message is that others do it for you.

You might strike lucky and your political opponents make a mess of things, allowing you to sit back, relax and watch the chaos unfold and your support rise. This has been Nicola Sturgeon’s highly enjoyable summer.

What happened for Leonard, however, is that his supposed allies – notably not his opponents – decided to fill the news gap by publicly undermining him. First, John McDonnell humiliated him not once, but twice, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake and – just as Leonard finished sweeping up the debris – Jeremy Corbyn decided to tear the house down all over again.

On Friday, national newspaper headlines told readers that Corbyn had “surrendered” on the Union. That was 10 days after McDonnell first told a Fringe audience that Labour wouldn’t block a second independence referendum. Ten days of political damage that have left Leonard even more bruised and isolated than he was after leading his party to fifth place in the European election. Corbynistas will argue that their leader’s comments are consistent, and question why they are newsworthy. Well, that’s not how the news agenda works in summer.

Yes, Corbyn has said before that the UK Parliament shouldn’t stand in the way of a second independence referendum. In fact, he said it repeatedly during the 2017 General Election campaign, almost certainly costing Scottish Labour several central belt gains.

“It’s not up to Parliament to block it, but it’s up to Parliament to make a point about whether it’s a good idea or not. I do not think it’s a good idea,” was Corbyn’s latest response to a question on a second independence referendum last week.

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The manifesto he stood on in 2017 was clear – Labour opposes another referendum. That’s the first thing he should say in response, and it’s what he should say again in every follow-up question. First, not second.

Every political party has what is called a “core script”, which includes the language to be used in interviews and TV clips. Each answer contains the key response, before moving on to how to deal with trickier elements once you have repeated the core message.

On the independence referendum question, Corbyn always answers in the wrong order. Not because he can’t follow a script, but because on this he clearly doesn’t want to.

Coupled with his failure to lift a finger during the 2014 campaign, the result is that he instantly appears to voters to be perfectly relaxed about Scotland leaving the UK.

The damage that perceived ambiguity on the Union does to Labour at the ballot box in Scotland has already been demonstrated, with thousands of voters switching to the Scottish Tories and LibDems.

It’s not only voters, either – it’s members as well. Last week, both South Lanarkshire councillor Fiona Dryburgh and former LGBT Labour Scotland co-chair Andrew Wilson joined the LibDems. They were key foot soldiers in the party. Other supporters have simply decided to abandon Scottish Labour.

While binary constitutional choices continue to dominate, parties must pick sides. Simply saying “let’s move on” isn’t going to work – Labour tried that in the 2016 Holyrood election and came third.

And the current ambiguity on the party’s position will not only lead to further election defeats, it also puts the future of the UK in question. The Scottish Tories should therefore be wary of rejoicing too much in Scottish Labour’s misfortune, with LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton striking a sensible tone when he wrote in his local newspaper that “a plurality of voices making the positive case for our place in both unions is absolutely vital if we are to save either”.

The tragedy for Scottish Labour is that just as the UK party massacres the message on independence, it is slowly starting to get its act together regarding Brexit. Last week’s letter from Corbyn to opposition party leaders was a smart piece of political strategy. It was both eminently reasonable and a clever way to force Europhiles to back Corbyn as Prime Minister or risk being portrayed as choosing to stop him rather than prevent a hard Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn can’t command a majority in the Commons to be Prime Minister, that much is clear. But it’s also quite reasonable to accept that he has the right to a first attempt, however doomed to failure it is.

What was perhaps more significant was Corbyn’s commitment to campaign on a final say on Brexit with the option to remain in the EU in the next General Election.

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Naturally, he couldn’t bring himself to say the party would campaign for remain, given he is a Eurosceptic who wasn’t really that bothered about campaigning the first time around. Nor was he willing to propose an EU referendum before a General Election, which would be a more logical step for someone who really wanted to remain.

But compared to where the party was a few months ago it is still a significant movement.

And it makes it even more galling for Scottish Labour supporters that Mr Leonard wasn’t banging this drum throughout summer.

Isolated on independence, behind the curve on Brexit, and sleepwalking towards another election setback.

When Kezia Dugdale was leader of Scottish Labour, and the party was polling in the early 20s, there were plotters looking for ways to oust her.

But Scottish Labour received 9% of the vote in the most recent election, and Richard Leonard’s position as leader is relatively secure. That’s how far Scottish Labour has fallen.

However, what certainly isn’t secure is the party’s future. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell appear ready to sacrifice it, the Scottish Tories and LibDems are ready to steal its remaining voters, and the SNP is ready to stand back and watch it destroy itself.

Silly season is almost over. The coming months will witness some of the most extraordinary moments in modern British political history.

Richard Leonard’s task while these shockwaves batter the country is to make sure the Scottish Labour Party is still standing when it’s all over. He has a monumental challenge ahead.