THE campaign to anoint Nicola Sturgeon’s successor limped into action yesterday via an interview on Good Morning Scotland with Neil Gray, a minister for something or other who has selflessly abandoned the idea of running in order to support the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf.

Dearie me, it was depressing. Mr Gray sounded as if he had been programmed in Murrell Towers to assure us what a competent fellow Mr Yousaf is; how exemplary has been his handling of the National Health Service and how his mission would be to bring the nation together. It was difficult to deduce which claim sounded the most implausible.

Mr Gray soon sought refuge in exactly the same dreary arguments we have become so familiar with – the road to independence, the options for de facto referendums and so wearily on. In other words, more and more of the same with a different voice proclaiming the same preoccupations, while Scotland stagnates.

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The unfortunate truth is that there is nothing in Mr Yousaf’s career that commends him for the role of Scotland’s First Minister, other than longevity. In fact, he epitomises the problem that underpins so many of the Scottish Government’s failings. None of its leading lights has a hinterland outside politics or a vision beyond the elixir of independence.

It's important to ask what brings people into politics. Is it a passion for social justice? Is it belief in specific reforms that need a Parliamentary advocate? Is it the ambition to create a climate of entrepreneurism and job creation? Is it in order to serve one’s local community and its neglected needs? There has to be a passion for something, for anyone who is going to make a difference.

The problem is that the runners in this contest would have to answer: “None of the above”. For each of them, the force that pulled them in was independence. For most nationalist politicians, everything meantime is no more than a means to an end; a calculation rather than a cause in its own right. There have been admirable exceptions in the past, Margo Macdonald and Margaret Ewing spring to mind.

I see none now but put this to the test. Is there any member of the Scottish Government one would associate with a specialism, expertise or commitment – other than to independence? Where are the educationists, the social reformers, the health professionals, the industrial workers, the lawyers of distinction, the grandees of local government who have graduated into Parliamentary politics?

You will find none of the above in the Scottish Government. They are servants of a single cause – nothing less and nothing more. The problem is that in the meantime, there is a country to run which needs driving forces to deliver progress and change.

HeraldScotland: Where in the Scottish Government are the 'educationists, social reformers, health professionals, industrial workers, lawyers of distinction and local government graduates?'Where in the Scottish Government are the 'educationists, social reformers, health professionals, industrial workers, lawyers of distinction and local government graduates?' (Image: Newsquest)

Instead, when there is no expertise in government, a void is created which the civil servants are obliged to fill without risk or flair. That is what anyone who has been inside government can recognise in so many policy failures that come out of Edinburgh. It’s not the civil servants’ fault; it’s the absence of political leadership.

Doubtless with the aid of some formidable arm-twisting, the field looks like being reduced to three. Before Holyrood, Kate Forbes was a trainee accountant for two and a half years. Ash Regan had a brief spell in public relations. Humza Yousaf’s entire career was as a political apparatchik. If it’s worldly experience or achievement outside politics you’re looking for, it’s a poor field.

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I know nothing about Ms Regan other than that she resigned over the Gender Reform Recognition Bill at a time when this could not be seen as anything other than an act of conscience-based political self-sacrifice. For that, she deserves respect. It is not, however, a qualification to run Scotland.

The problem with Kate Forbes is not that she is a religious fundamentalist, which is entirely her own business and should not be a barrier to office. It is that she is a political fundamentalist who has not yet demonstrated herself capable of escaping that intellectual straitjacket to deal with the world as it is, rather than as she might wish it to be.

She could start by looking around the Highlands and what the government of which she is part is responsible for. As elsewhere, Highland Council must patch together a budget that involves tens of millions of cuts on top of a decade of harsh treatment by Ms Forbes’ government. She is part of that problem. Does she have the humility to recognise how damaging this has been – and redistributive in the wrong direction?

Will she pause such enterprises as the National Care Service, Deposit Return Scheme and doling out hundreds of millions to landowners in environmental grants, until wiser counsels and higher priorities prevail?

If she is serious about economic growth, will she ditch the anti-growth Greens and their smug policies – not just the A9 but, for example, restrictions which threaten the existence of West Coast fisheries? That’s without leaving her own constituency.

Rather than the Greens pontificating on whether they could stay within a Scottish Government led by Ms Forbes, she could make the campaign more interesting by telling Mr Harvie and Ms Slater that she’s ditching them, to widespread national applause.

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As for Mr Yousaf, his record truly does speak for itself and the prospect of him emerging as “continuity candidate” with the hands of Mr Murrell and Ms Sturgeon upon his shoulder should have us shaking our heads in despair. A man who complained to the BBC because they filmed him falling off his mobility scooter has a long way to go before being taken seriously as the father of our nation.

Ms Sturgeon’s departure should offer lessons to any thoughtful candidate. An agenda to make Scotland a fairer, more successful society requires a mentality that extends beyond the word “independence”.

Whether anyone in this contest is capable of making that leap to become a leader rather than a one-dimensional partisan remains in doubt, until proven otherwise.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.