Perhaps, in years to come, the 2016 Holyrood campaign will be known as the Tank Commander election. So anaemic and unremarkable has this Scottish election been that the stars thus far have been Bernard Ponsonby and a BBC Scotland light entertainment figure. The redoubtable STV political editor’s chairmanship of the live television debate helped breathe life into a format which is already looking tired and predictable as a feature of the modern electoral hustings.

The Ponsonby debates were a few weeks ago now and we were all beginning to become jaded again before Greg McHugh, aka Gary Tank Commander, popped up on the BBC with his own comedy interviews of the leaders (you saucy minx, Kezia Dugdale). Perhaps this is how Scottish political campaigns of the future ought to be arranged: big Bernard softens them up over fiscal arrangements on his big leather chair and then Kevin Bridges or Des Clarke invites them to make double entendres about their favourite holiday destinations.

So, unless any of the parties come up with anything resembling a big, life-changing policy this is what Holyrood 2016 will be remembered for; a media personality and a cult comedy character. Perhaps too, as Magnus Gardham pointed out on these pages the other week, this is exactly how the SNP want it: best to keep things low-key and don’t mention the R-word so as not to scare the horses. They know that an overall Holyrood majority on May 5 is their’s for the taking by avoiding anything as brave as radical policy and secure in the knowledge that none of the other parties will dare to state what they really stand for.

Ruth Davidson’s entire strategy rests on hoping there exist in Scotland a significant number of soft left voters who are yet so wedded to the Union that they will put their congenital disdain for the Tories aside and vote for them while holding their noses. By pursuing this single-issue strategy she hopes these same voters will overlook the fact her party is run by David Cameron and George Osborne, architects of austerity and non-executive tax specialists for the rich and famous.

The Liberal Democrats have spent so much time pulling skelfs out of their fundaments from sitting on so many fences that they are now reduced to fighting over a few list seats with Ukip, a party whose leader was exposed by Ponsonby as being fit for nothing more than running a tombola stall.

In previous years each of these parties would at least have been fighting for enough votes to bring them some seats in a coalition, but that ship has long sailed since the independence referendum changed everything. Not even the Labour Party can talk of holding the SNP’s feet to the fire in a coalition arrangement. If there is to be any long-term political significance from the outcome of this election it will turn on the eventual fate of Scottish Labour.

This party isn’t fighting for government or even for a seat or two in a coalition; it’s fighting for the right to be called a meaningful party at all. Ms Dugdale knows that if her party gains just one more seat than the Tories she will live to fight again; one seat less and she and her party are all but finished. There will always be Scottish Tories and Liberals but when the electorate has decided over a nine-year period that there only needs to be one left-wing party in Scotland and that it’s not you then what is the point?

Several reasons have been advanced for the subdued tone of Holyrood 2016. The referendum on Europe has pitched some dreadful old right-wing grotesques squaring up to each other nightly on our television screens. Alongside this, the debate about how to use one of the few tax levers with which Scotland was entrusted by the Smith Commission pales into near-obscurity. It might even be said that, following a five-year period when there will have been five Scottish, UK and European polls there is a feeling of election fatigue.

Yet there has been no shortage of events, nationally and internationally, for a left-wing party to get agitated about. The leaked Panama Papers showed the UK, already a socially divided nation, has connived at pimping itself to gangsters, fraudsters and tyrants as the world’s one-stop money-laundering destination. The revelation hundreds of billions in legitimately-taxed revenues is being held in well-known pirate states while refugees fleeing from the wars funded by this dirty cash are thrown back into the water by the world’s richest countries ought to make the blood rise.

At home the party that helps operate this sewer is withholding legitimate benefits from the sick and the elderly; the infirm and the vulnerable. Already, the sound and fury of the Panama revelations have begun to recede: the greedy rich can rest easy again safe in the knowledge that the story will next re-surface in one of those end-of-the-year television reviews.

Yet hardly a voice in this Scottish election has been raised in fury. Scottish Labour’s key election pledge of an extra 1p on income tax to protect education from cuts was what many of us had been waiting for from this party. Yet, as a BMG Research survey for The Herald found, support for that pledge fell by eight percentage points when it was revealed it was a Scottish Labour proposal. This party needs to get much angrier.

Nowhere in the SNP’s manifesto was there a big idea to change the poverty paradigm; really change it. It wants “Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up by improving outcomes and reducing inequalities for all babies, children, mothers, fathers and families across Scotland to ensure that all children have the best start in life”. This is meaningless pap and Scottish Labour should be saying so.

The SNP says it has increased free early learning and childcare by almost half to 600 hours and that this will increase to 1,140 hours in the next parliament – about 30 hours a week. They claim this will be worth £4,500 a year for families. If that is accurate there are thousands of families in our most deprived areas who would rather have that £4,500 in their hands to spend on food, winter fuel bills and new shoes for the children. These and their £100 Baby Boxes are mere gestures; worthless holding policies which will do little to address embedded health inequality and economic disadvantage. To address this there needs to be long-term and sustainable 20-year plans tailored to the needs of our poorest communities which will introduce special measures at bridging the education attainment gap and bring business investment.

Instead of having its tummy tickled by Gary Tank Commander Scottish Labour needs to shout louder and get angrier, much, much angrier. By all means let’s be independent, Ms Dugdale should say, but then what: more of the same, or a proper agenda to reverse inequality?