YOU would be forgiven if you failed to notice the story.

It didn't generate many reports on the evening news. Indignant editorial comment from London was in short supply. Suddenly the old Blairites who had been touring the studios praising Ed Miliband for his dauntless courage were nowhere to be seen.

The leader himself, formerly so "incredibly angry", seemed to have nothing left to say about his party's affairs in Falkirk, or its relationships with the trade unions. Funny, that. But after all the talk of scandals, corruption and "dossiers", Police Scotland announced at the end of July that there was nothing to investigate.

Or rather, officers found no reason even to commence an investigation. The spectacle of police wasting their own time is not edifying. The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, did promise to look into whether the Unite union had breached data protection laws, but since he was acting on a letter from an aide to the Tory chairman, Grant Shapps, Labour didn't make much of the detail.

The party did attempt to justify disciplinary procedures over the alleged rigging of candidate selection. A nameless source said the affair was "political, not financial". But since police could only act if there was a suggestion of financial impropriety, why had Mr Miliband called the cops? If he possessed evidence of "political" wrong-doing, why not publish the famous party report that caused all the fuss? Even now, few have read the thing.

It comes to this: either Unite was acting under the rules - rules introduced while Tony Blair was party leader - or a few family members, by one account as few as four, were signed up to Labour without their explicit consent. Some who have read the report suggest, moreover, that Unite might not have been alone in behaving carelessly.

So what did Mr Miliband achieve with this non-story? He managed a speech and a few interviews in which he could sound tough, Tony-style. He gave David Cameron a mantra for all seasons in the name of the Unite general-secretary, Len McCluskey. He alienated union leaders, their members and Labour members. And he called into question the only revenue stream on which his hard-up party can rely.

It pleased the Blairites, especially those - meaning all of them - who do not necessarily view this Miliband as their leader from now until eternity. If it had also pleased the public, in terms of the opinion polls, and established some credibility for the head of the Opposition, it might have been justifiable. But if Mr Miliband has any sense he will not ruin the ambience of his French holiday retreat by looking at those surveys.

An optimist would call the numbers mixed. In the last week or so they have ranged from a tolerably satisfactory 11% lead for Labour to a mere 3%. One poll showed 6%; a survey for a Sunday newspaper came in at 8%. If this is the best Mr Miliband can do, his party's back-benchers are right to fret. He is already relying on the vagaries of the electoral system to see him into office.

Those quirks amount to a well-established phenomenon by which Labour has an in-built advantage over the Tories. Thanks to unequal seat sizes, the over-representation of Wales (Scotland having been adjusted), differential turn-out, tactical voting and the way party support is concentrated, Labour can gain a majority topping five dozen seats, as it did in 2005, with just a 3% edge in the vote. In contrast, the Tories emerged from the 2010 contest with a 7.2% lead and still needed to go into coalition.

In theory, then, even a miserable 3% would be just enough for Mr Miliband at least to unseat Mr Cameron. Will that do? This is the mid-term of a deeply unpopular Government inflicting misery on ordinary families and promising more of the same for years ahead. At the equivalent moment in August 2008, with Gordon Brown in the pits, Conservative opinion poll leads ranged between 15% and 23%.

Mr Cameron's lead collapsed thanks to two things: the fleeting "I'm with Nick" nonsense and the announce­ment by the Office for National Statistics in January 2010 that Britain was out of recession. George Osborne is already behaving as though the bare economic numbers are heading in his direction. Yet Mr Miliband's response, if that's the word, is to promise to adhere to Tory spending plans.

Meanwhile, his desperate desire for credibility, the urge that caused him to inflate a row in Falkirk into a bubble of specious controversy, is not being rewarded. All the posturing towards the unions has not improved Mr Miliband's personal standing in the slightest. If anything, the perception that he is inept and a loser has grown. The poll that gave Labour an 11% lead gave Mr Cameron a miserable 33% rating. Miliband got a derisory 22%.That could seem generous before too long. If Labour cannot seem plausible now, when is the miracle liable to occur? It should be picking up support from all those who were duped by Nick Clegg. Though vulnerable to Ukip's English insurgency, it should not be feeling the heat as intensely as Mr Cameron. Yet the single recent poll showing a double-digit Labour lead is the outlier.

Seven and a half months before Mr Miliband's fate is decided, there will be another poll. You might have heard about it. The relationship between the votes on September 18, 2014 and May 7, 2015 are not often discussed, strangely enough, but Labour types in need of a hobby project based on the ever-popular theme of fear would do well to think about what might be at stake this time next year.

Let's presume they intend to vote No. That would be their right. What, though, would be their likely reward? Labour sweeping back to power under Ed the Dauntless? See, as they say, above. Or Labour forced into coalition with those nice, trustworthy LibDems? Given those polls and the temper of the Blairites, that's probably the best bet. Someone should tell the faithful.

Otherwise there's a fair chance of Cleggameron: the Sequel. There's a decent chance, if Mr Osborne can make the economic numbers palatable, of Mr Cameron in sole charge. Increasingly, the signs that Mr Miliband can prevent this outcome are sparse. As Labour voters in Scotland's 2014 referendum should be aware, you can't say No to everything. The next stage after fear is, or should be, terror.

After all, Mr Miliband has already made a few things perfectly clear. Anyone who is working hard to secure his victory in a General Election has been given a long list of the things a Labour government will not contemplate. The programme crafted by the Coalition and its lobbyist friends will continue. Even if he could mount the charger, Mr Miliband has no intention of riding to the rescue.

Who will get the credit at Westminster, in any case, if Scots do say No? Who will spend seven and a half months posing as the man who "saved Britain" as he milks the impending First World Was centenary commemorations on behalf of his national government? Not Mr Miliband, even as he hangs his Scottish party on the barbed wire.