LAST week, Keir Starmer, the real leader of the Labour party – as opposed to the candidates for the post of Scottish branch office manager – delivered a speech which was touted in advance as his bid to reset his floundering party and put it in a place where it could make a bid to win the next Westminster General Election.

It speaks volumes about the dire straits in which Labour now finds itself that it has failed to make a serious impact on the Conservatives in UK-wide opinion polling.

This is despite the fact that we have a corrupt Tory administration which has passed out lucrative contracts to friends and associates of senior Conservatives like sweeties at Halloween. Although to be fair, there are few more convincingly scary costumes than a Tory at your door carrying a leaflet printed with the smirking mug of Douglas Ross.

This is a Conservative government which has presided over the highest Covid death toll in Europe combined with the greatest economic damage. For an opposition to fail to overtake this bunch of callous incompetents is like a runner who claims that they are ready to win an Olympic medal despite the fact that they struggle to keep up with a one legged drunk with a severe verruca.

Their position is likely to be even worse by the time the next Westminster election comes around. The Tories are hoping that the public memory of the epidemic will have faded, and been overlain by the more recent memory of the expected post-Covid economic rebound. Brexit will have become embedded, and the Conservatives can hope to repeat their victory of 2019 and entrench themselves in power for another five years. By that time they will have gutted and eviscerated the devolution settlement.

In Scotland, Labour remains hamstrung by the constitutional question. Anas Sarwar, the front runner in the branch office manager contest, is strongly identified with the uber-Unionist faction of the party which is implacably opposed to another independence referendum. In the recent leadership debate he could not even bring himself to concede that the people of Scotland had the right to another independence referendum if, as appears likely, they vote for one in the upcoming Holyrood elections.

READ MORE: Keir Starmer fails to mention Scotland at all in speech on future of the UK

When pressed on the issue he merely reiterated his opposition to another referendum and refused to address the question of what the stance of Labour in Scotland should be if the electorate listened to the arguments of Anas and his pals against another referendum and replied, “Nah, we want one anyway”.

This is not a stance which is likely to resonate with the remaining Labour voters who opinion polling tells us are now supportive of independence. Far less is it likely to appeal to former Labour voters who have long since defected to the SNP, yet these are precisely the voters that Labour in Scotland must win back if the party is to restore its fortunes. “Vote for us so that we can ignore you” is not a winning strategy.

It’s a sign of how detached from reality the Labour party in Scotland has become that they seem to think it is.

Meanwhile, the great idea to save the Union and thwart Scottish independence is varying iterations of attempts to resuscitate the long decayed corpse of the federalism fairy – Labour in Scotland’s favourite Halloween costume. On closer examination, these consist of little more than vague promises that Gordon Brown will head up a talking shop to look at the issue. We’ve heard these vows before.

Yet it’s clear that, toothless and ineffective as the proposals are, the wider Labour party has no real interest in pursuing any form of federalism. It’s simply not a priority for a party which sees the route to victory as running through the so-called red wall seats in the north of England which fell to the Tories in the 2019 General Election. It was noticeable that Keir Starmer made no mention at all of federalism, Scotland, devolution, or the Union in his keynote speech.

The conclusion is obvious. For Labour, Scotland’s interests are not key and don’t need to be taken note of. The federalism fairy is still dead, even if Labour is reluctant to bury it. It’s too useful to be able to trot out the body whenever Scotland gets restless and the threat of independence surges again. But it’s only a sop – there is no substance to the promises of federalism, and there is certainly no determination on the part of the wider Labour party to carry it through.

What we do know is that Starmer intends to appeal to voters in the north of England who have defected to Brexit and the Tories by focussing on British “patriotism” and flag waving. Labour in Scotland will be trying to argue against independence by claiming that waving flags and nationalism won’t put food on the table, while the party in the rest of the UK puts its energy into nationalistic flag waving.

But of course in the mythology of British nationalism, waving a British flag magically protects you from nationalism. What makes British nationalism better than the nationalisms of lesser breeds is that it’s not nationalist at all, it’s “patriotism”. Voters in Scotland aren’t going to notice the hypocrisy at all. Oh, no.

Keir has gazed upon the results of opinion polls and the pages of the right-wing press and has decided that what the British public really want is Union flags, smart suits at military parades, the royal family, Brexit, Top Gear, and steak and chips at Wetherspoons. British politics now offers nothing but a choice between different flavours of pro-Brexit British nationalism. This is not a UK which has any political space available for Scottish political distinctiveness.

A Labour party which apes the Conservatives and which has no convincing answers to the constitutional question cannot save Scotland from the pro-Brexit English nationalism of the Tories. Scotland can only save itself and it must start by voting convincingly for pro-independence parties in the crucial Scottish elections which lie ahead.