YAWN, and you missed it.

Sir Keir Starmer’s heavily trailed New Year’s message was policy-lite and commitment-free. A bit like his heavily trailed speech at September’s Labour Party conference. Perhaps it was the result of him testing positive for Covid for a second time.

“It was a speech so instantly forgettable that a minute after it had been delivered, the Labour leader couldn’t remember it himself”. That was one commentator’s reference to that toe-curling moment during questions, when Starmer had to take a huge sip of water to remember; “Prosperity, Security and err, err, erm, err Respect.” That’s the trouble with worthy truisms. They are eminently forgettable. At least “Get Brexit Done” had brevity and defiant impossibility on its side. Even Theresa May’s “Now is not the time”, worked in its own patrician way.

But security, prosperity and respect?

It’s what you’d expect from funeral directors on the make – not an opposition party during a time of near permanent crisis and emergency.

To be fair, Starmer did list the big problems – soaring energy costs, rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.

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But they’ve been listed a million times and it seems most English voters doubt that a Labour government would have done any better. Why should they when the core problems of the marketised, sluggish British economy remain delicately avoided by the Labour leader? Where for example, was his mention of the awkward fact 85% of British households use gas for heating – a higher proportion (despite a surfeit of renewable resources) than any other country in Europe? And where was his powerful medium-term remedy – a jobs revolution to convert individual homes to renewably powered district heating or heat-creating local energy grids?

If you can’t criticise a dysfunctional privatised energy market for fear of resembling – whisper it – Jeremy Corbyn, then what use are you? Worse. If you can’t be honest about the economic devastation wrought by Brexit for fear of resembling your former self – then who are you?

The National: Former Labour leader Jeremy CorbynFormer Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

You are the leader who consistently bottles the chance to place well-argued socialist or just mildly centrist thinking before the voting public. You are the man charged with opposing the slogan-based governance of Boris Johnson who ends up mimicking him instead.

Make Brexit work – three mentions. Glowing words about Tony Blair – two mentions. Flags – Union Jacks. A large matching pair.

Don’t you realise you flatter Boris (and empower him) by your imitation?

You are the man who should have used his festive slot to talk about equality, strategy and new forms of public ownership but instead presented “a contract with the British people” based on security, prosperity and respect. That’s not even fiddling while Rome burns. Fiddlers have energy and urgency.

It was just another wasted opportunity for Labour and an unexpected N’er Day boost for Yes.

Not because Starmer’s speech was stappit fu wi content guaranteed to irk progressive Scots. But because there was a bit of actual news – overlooked by the London press since it mentions (boring) Scotland even though it also scuppers the chance of a Labour-led government at Westminster.

Sir Keir repeated his preference for tholing a Tory minority government instead of reaching a working arrangement to govern with the SNP.

Well, well.

You’ve got to hand it to the Labour leader. It might have arrived a week late, but that was a belated seasonal gift for the whole independence movement. A reminder of why we’re on this journey. An eloquent summary of all that’s hopeless about social democracy in England. The clearest possible demonstration that Scotland and England are different countries with different political cultures. And an eloquent reminder that cosying up to the voters of Middle England means alienating everyone who once voted Labour to extend and protect the welfare state. And north of the Border, that’s a whole lot of us.

Indeed, beyond his snub to Britain’s third largest, democratically elected, progressive party – y’know the one that’s just doubled Scotland’s unique Child Payment – there’s a problem for Scots with the man himself.

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“Sir Keir” may run aff the tongue in England where gongs are handed out like confetti and even to the likes of Tony Blair – but it fairly jars in a country with enduring memories of oor ain Keir – Lanarkshire-born Keir Hardie. Plain and simple.

A citizen like all the rest of us – happy not to be “elevated” above the average worker simply because he once hauded an important job.

Changed Keirs and changed days.

Keir Starmer is obsessed with respectability despite veritably oozing the stuff – even though that preoccupation cripples the party’s egalitarian appeal, stifles policy formation and blocks the new cooperative politics this benighted country actually needs. Keir is the only knight to have led the People’s Party. He is the M&S of Labour politics. Upmarket to a fault. Can anyone imagine him shopping at Poundland, having a flutter on the horses, watching darts or eating a box of Quality Street all on his ownsome? No. The idea he’d consciously waste a penny of taxpayers’ money is simply incredible. Yet there he was on New Year’s Day flogging his credentials for reliability to within an inch of their serious lives.

That frenzied effort and craven speech tell us a bit about him, a bit about the Labour Party and a whole lot about the English electorate he must win over.

It is – on the whole – irretrievably conservative. Worried in the affluent south about changes that might dent property prices.

Worried in the north about patriotic credentials. That’s why a Labour leader who served under an Islington leftie accused of “disrespecting” Queen, army, country and flag must now bind himself to these totems. Even Christianity got a mention by Starmer on Christmas Eve – “In the darkest of times, Christian values of kindness, of compassion and hope have shone through”.

Of course, Boris had just upped the ante by suggesting Covid vaccination chimed with Christ’s teaching, “as the act of a good neighbour”.

But that’s no reason to try and outdo him – unless the Labour leader is running scared.

Indeed, for all his grave, ponderous delivery, Starmer has the air of a terrified man, because every route out of Britain’s current crisis invokes a Ghost of Christmas Past. In one direction sits the Ghost of Jezza – England’s last socialist. In the other the very lively diminutive figure of Britain’s most successful social democrat – Nicola Sturgeon. And Starmer can’t survive either association.

Not because the SNP leader is some evil, conniving Nationalist who would wreck Britain – indeed many Yessers complain she put saving Britain from Brexit above the independence cause.

No, the problem is that Scotland’s First Minister is infinitely more confident, popular and comfortable in her own skin. Any double act risks unfortunate comparison and the near certainty of a killer cartoon with Starmer popping out of Sturgeon’s handbag in the same way David Steel’s once occupied David Owen’s top pocket.

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Perhaps Labour’s dwindling band of Scottish supporters think it’s simpler. No self-respecting Unionist party can touch the nasty nationalists with a barge pole. But with Starmer’s Labour Party now openly courting the English Nationalist vote the bigger problem is clear. Joint working with the SNP would now represent a clash of two nationalisms.

So even though the most likely and productive outcome of the next general election is a hung parliament with a Labour/SNP/Plaid/Green majority, Starmer must talk down that scenario and insist Labour will govern on its own or not at all. Loudly and often.

So, Keir. Sir Keir. Rest assured – Scottish voters do hear you.

The magnolia pallor of your easily forgotten slogan screams safety.

Your unquenchable thirst for respectability screams needy.

And your failure to even think of how this works for Scots, means beaten.