How will the new Scottish Labour leader respond to the betwixt and between position of his party?

Does he stick to his guns, pretend 64 seats and an independence majority don’t constitute a mandate for a second referendum or get ahead of the curve, accept the mandate and position Labour as the progressive leaders of the No campaign, leaving Douglas Ross huffing and puffing on the sidelines?

Admittedly it would be a bold move and that isn’t really Labour’s style.

But if Anas Sarwar cannot find the courage to get off the fence and back democracy in Scotland, he’ll soon find himself manacled on the one side to Douglas Ross and his reality-denying Tories and on the other to a UK Labour leader whose prospects as next prime minister are heading south.

Sarwar seems to be settling for a UK Labour leader with less appeal in Scotland than Hartlepool and a Tory leader intent on blocking referendum enabling legislation at Holyrood – you know, the Parliament Sarwar actually serves.

In the constitutional stand-off and Supreme Court drama that’s set to unfold, it’ll be a handicap to be attached to one dead weight – but two?

There is an alternative for Anas Sarwar.

Plough your own furrow.

Take the example of Andy Burnham. Bold enough to put clear red water between himself and Keir Starmer several times during the Covid crisis, this weekend the #KingoftheNorth reaped his reward – re-elected as mayor of Greater Manchester in a landslide victory. Burnham was backed by 67.3 per cent of voters, making him the bookies' favourite to become next Labour leader – and in the hours after victory he didn’t pull his punches, calling for Labour to reconnect emotionally with voters and become less "London-centric". Hours later, after Angela Rayner’s sacking, he tweeted bluntly, “I cannot support this.”

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Northern voters know where this Labour leader stands.

No dithering or standing in the middle of the road for him.

Or take the example provided by the Scottish TUC which had a debate and democratic vote on Indyref2 at their recent annual conference. Delegates agreed that Holyrood “should have the power to hold a referendum on Scotland’s future and should not require UK Government consent”.

Is Labour still umbilically connected to that fair-minded trade union movement? You would wonder.

Mark Drakeford provides yet another example of boldness for Anas Sarwar.

Last month the Welsh Labour leader told Radio 4 an election-winning party which included an Indyref pledge in its manifesto “would’ve won the right to hold such a referendum”. In March he observed that the United Kingdom “as it is, is over” and suggested that a new union is created to reflect a “voluntary association of four nations”.

That’s strong stuff and this weekend he saw off Plaid and the Tories to clinch a working majority in the Senedd. Again, fortune appears to favour the bold.

Welsh Labour did what the SNP could not because tactical voting – now commonplace in Scotland – is still largely absent in Wales. If Drakeford’s Labour was fighting three pro-independence parties whose supporters dropped party allegiances to block his chances of success in every seat, he too might have been struggling.

Nonetheless, his victory was a reward for decisiveness and straight-talking.

Meanwhile, Anas Sarwar is oddly happy to repeat the warning he won’t heed – "If you sit in the middle of the road, you get run over."

You do.

So how does Sarwar plan to survive as the vehicles fly past him on every side? Indeed, the same could be asked of Willie Rennie.

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With his consensual style, the new Labour leader looks far more companionable than the permanently angry Douglas Ross, but as the polls have just demonstrated, nervy unionists prefer a stern, genuinely raging unionist to anyone more biddable.

Besides, tactical voting weakens party loyalty. Once upon a time, Labour supporters would be heartily ashamed of voting Tory. Not now. Tory, Labour, LibDem – what do these party labels actually mean if they are dropped like stones the minute a ballot box looms.

Opportunism somehow fits the Tory vision of life. The Scottish Conservatives are defensive unionists – whose aim is to protect the status quo. It’s not pretty or very uplifting but it does what it says on the can.

But Labour – like the SNP and Greens – are aspirational parties, trying to change the status quo and create a better society. The ends may justify the means for Tories and it seems the more Boris Johnson lies and Douglas Ross roars, the happier supporters seem to be. But when Labour is caught making such cynical calculations to win power, they lose trust and traction.

Actually, Labour is already fighting a losing Indyref battle within its own ranks.

A recent YouGov poll found 60% of Labour supporters across the UK would back another Indyref “in principle” over the next few years, and think their party should do the same.

Admittedly just 31% of Labour supporters north of the Border backed the referendum call, though the Scottish sample was just 43 people.

So, who knows how many Scottish Labour members now support the democratic right to hold another referendum?

If he doesn’t know, how does Anas Sarwar plan to hang onto them?

An appearance on Sunday’s Marr programme didn’t produce any new constitutional line. Instead, Sarwar says he’s reshaping Scottish Labour to become an alternative government to the SNP.

With the Indyref wars still raging o’er his heid?

He also promised to end knee-jerk opposition to SNP policies – a constructive move. But that might just expose his next problem. Is Scottish Labour to the left or right of Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP? If to the right, grumblings of discontent amongst the pro-Indyref left will only grow.

Sarwar’s Labour can only become an alternative government to the SNP on the other side of Indyref2. If independence wins the day, a completely new scenario opens up. If it loses, neither the SNP nor Tories will be able to fight the 2026 election on the battleground of Indyref3.

That is Scottish Labour’s big opportunity.

There is no other.

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