At one of Lord Ashcroft’s focus groups recently, participants were asked what jobs they thought might suit politicians if they were not, well, politicians. In Edinburgh, one respondent unkindly suggested Nicola Sturgeon would make an excellent traffic warden. For her part poor Kezia Dugdale – I’m afraid ‘Poor Kezia Dugdale’ has become the accepted form of labelling the Scottish Labour leader – was reckoned to be just the sort of person who would thrive working in a pet rescue centre.
There are many times that must seem preferable to leading the Labour party in Scotland. For the whole of this campaign Ms Dugdale has suggested that the very last thing Scotland, and indeed the United Kingdom, needs is a second referendum on independence. No, no, no, she says. It is time to focus on other matters, putting the divisions of the past behind us.
This recognises that the Labour party of 2017 is not the Labour party that existed in 2014. It is, in the first instance, very much smaller. But also very much more Unionist, no matter how stridently Labour politicians shy away from accepting that label. Fully a third of Labour’s habitual voters voted Yes in 2014 and the vast majority of them then left the erstwhile people’s party and gave their votes to the SNP. Labour became a Unionist party by accident and by default.
This left it in a terrible position. It cannot win again in Scotland until it regains those lost Yes voters but it cannot regain those lost Yes voters without risking the loss of the No voters it has retained and who now constitute the overwhelming majority of Labour supporters.
Poor Kezia Dugdale, then, is trapped. Damned if she goes in one direction; just as damned if she goes in another. You begin to understand why Labour would rather not talk about the constitution.
Still, in recent months her language has hardened.