If you’ll forgive me wallowing for a moment in some post-Christmas gloom, 2024 looks like being a bit rubbish. Inadequate wages, yawning inequality, punishing rents and mortgages, the endless worry about climate change in a world run by idiots and narcissists: so much for the march of progress. With the economy skewered, the mood for change is powerful.

Sir Keir Starmer is the face of that change, but doesn’t look much like it. People expect Labour to offer radical progressive solutions; instead they’re going after the Tories on fiscal discipline and immigration. The Labour leader’s bland charm is all about relieving the good people of middle England of their votes, not firing up radicals.

But it’s undeniably working. If you want the Conservatives out, Sir Keir looks like the one to do it. Even in Scotland, Labour is on the march, threatening long-held SNP seats.

The problem is that this might be the right strategy to win power but it’s not the right strategy for doing much with it.

Labour is said to have a two-term plan, but it doesn’t feel that way in Scotland.

It may win back some long-lost seats here, but holding on to them at the following election will require more.

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In Scotland, the Conservative Government has been consistently unpopular for the last 13 years. Again and again, Scottish voters have shown a preference for social democratic parties over the Tories. The crucial question is: what will Labour do to make that support their own, in the face of SNP taunts that it is just Tory-lite? And how will Labour give Scotland more of a voice?

Sir Keir has retreated again and again from bold policy positions. Infamously, he has offered no vision. Hope is faltering. Without a mandate to do what’s really required in government to tackle inequality, climate change and overcentralised Westminster power, people are starting to wonder what Labour is for.

People expect Labour to fund public services better and make Britain fairer, ensuring the benefits of any economic revival are felt across society. But they will also want the new government at Westminster to be more responsive to Scotland.

Sir Keir welcomed Gordon Brown’s proposal for a Senate of the Nations and Regions to replace the House of Lords, but has he promised to implement it? He has not.

Well, that needs to change. In power, if Sir Keir sits on his hands, he will face an SNP revival fuelled by disillusion. Not only would this jeopardise any Labour seats in Scotland, but catapult the fraught question of an independence referendum to the top of the agenda for the following election. There is no good outcome for Labour in Scotland that involves propping up the status quo.

In short, if Labour wins power it will have to show some political courage, distinguishing itself from the Conservatives by proving its commitment to fairness and implementing reforms to the way Britain is governed. Most people want devolution to work better. Labour has to make that happen.

All progressives would like to see Sir Keir showing more radicalism, but most can see that Labour is stymied by economics, electoral arithmetic and the prevailing political weather. Sir Keir has been pulled incrementally further to the right by his battle to the political death with an increasingly demented Tory Party. Like a losing army in retreat, the Conservatives seem to be spending their last desperate days setting booby traps for the enemy at the gates. Ever-more extreme policy positions on Rwanda, net zero and equality issues are designed to “expose” Labour as soft on immigration and out of touch with voters.

The Herald: Humza Yousaf has tried to stem the outward flow of independence supporters Humza Yousaf has tried to stem the outward flow of independence supporters (Image: PA)

Spooked as all modern Labour leaders are by the spectre of 1992 as well as Ed Miliband’s humiliation in 2015, Sir Keir is obsessively determined to avoid any commitment that could be misrepresented by the Tories and their media to scare key voters.

If Scottish voters are disappointed by this, they seem prepared to back Labour - this time. Labour looks like returning a decent crop of Scottish MPs. Yes, Scottish Labour has been jittery about some of Sir Keir’s positioning, with Anas Sarwar publicly speaking out against retaining the two-child benefit cap. But the story has moved on. A year ago this seemed to be a stand-up battle between a muscular, confident SNP and an insurgent Labour Party, fighting for votes on the same political ground. Now it’s more like a stealthy pursuit by Labour of a wounded SNP. Labour’s Rutherglen by-election win showed how vulnerable the SNP has become.

The SNP has done its best to hold its ground on the left, including in the recent Budget when Finance Secretary Shona Robison introduced a sixth tax band.

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But it hasn’t helped. Humza Yousaf is less popular than Nicola Sturgeon; that, and those bad-tempered public divisions in SNP ranks are far more consequential electorally than well-intentioned moves to share wealth more equitably. As psephologist Sir John Curtice has pointed out, some independence supporters are turning to Labour. They have lost patience and are now focusing on helping Sir Keir reject Rishi Sunak.

Mr Yousaf has tried to stem the outward flow of independence supporters in the usual way, by hamming up a constitutional dispute with the UK Government over the Gender Recognition Act, but it’s not helping.

Labour does look likely to form the next UK government, with help from Scottish voters. But what happens after that is a different matter. Keir Starmer must make Scottish voters feel having a Labour government at Westminster is different from having a Tory one, and must do this in the face of the SNP’s implacable enmity. The steel cage of fiscal austerity will prevent a new Labour government from lavishing cash on Scottish public services. Sir Keir’s cabinet will be daunted by the prospect of Lords reform since it will seem remote to many voters, particularly in England, and could mire the government in trouble for months.

But Labour must find the courage. Otherwise the Scottish question could prove to be its undoing.