ALONGSIDE diplomats and aid workers, foreign correspondents, among others, know a thing or two about failed states. Most of us have worked often enough in such places and watched people there struggle against the odds to recognise the all-too-familiar signs.

Some countries fail spectacularly, of course, with a total collapse of state institutions. Think of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal or Somalia and Sierra Leone in Africa, where decades-long civil wars meant the governments in both countries ceased to exist altogether at one point.

Almost everyone reading this if asked to name two or three failed states could probably do so based on the familiar characteristics that prevail in such countries.

While there’s no internationally agreed upon definition of what a failed state is, it usually means they can no longer perform basic functions such as security and governance.

It’s often measured, too, by the behaviour of ruling elites; social divisions; economic inequality; emigration; state legitimacy; public services; human rights and the rule of law. In other words, a failed state is composed of feeble and flawed institutions. Which brings me to the UK.

Writing in the Daily Mirror recently, one of its senior political journalists made the point that over the next few weeks, 0.34% of the UK’s population will get to decide who is the country’s next prime minister.

As the Tory leadership election brews, the article cited recent research at Queen Mary University of London, highlighting how the Tory membership lives predominantly in the south-west, south-east and east of England. It is also overwhelmingly white (99%), male (70%), with 86% categorised as ABC1s with more education and better-paid jobs, and 72% aged over 45.

In other words, as the article’s writer wryly observes, the UK’s future “is in the hands of gerontocracy that is barely represented in the north of England or Wales, has a minimal presence in Scotland, has almost no working-class base and is insulated from deprivation”.

That’s quite a thought and I couldn’t agree more with the writer that any other country electing its leader in this way would most likely be deemed a failed state.

This seemingly unlikely idea of the UK becoming a failed state also cropped up this week in a conversation I had with someone who spent decades working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

Having operated in a few failed states, the person was at pains to point out that similar traits and symptoms were already identifiable right here in our own backyard and the idea of the UK slipping in that direction was not as daft at it might sound.

We had got on to the subject of the UK’s current global standing in the wake of the news that Kim Darroch, Britain’s ambassador to the US, had resigned following the recent leak of diplomatic cables critical of Donald Trump and his administration.

Needless to say, the response within the Tory ranks was wholly predictable, with the likes of Boris Johnson and others more than willing to throw a respected diplomat under a bus simply to protect their own political ambitions.

If ever there was a stark illustration of the self-serving nature of the current UK Tory elite and the dysfunctional way they run the country’s key institutions, then this was it.

No wonder morale at the FCO is rock bottom and the sense of being rudderless, ignored or even despised prevails, when government politicians are only too happy to see someone like Darroch take the bullet for telling it like it is.

This, too, before we even get to the crucial question of who leaked the diplomatic memos – and why?

In its Brexit frenzy, Britain almost daily displays some of the characteristics synonymous with becoming a failed state. The idea that one of the world’s most successful nations might inexorably be drifting in that direction will seem implausible and laughable to many, but it’s worth taking a closer look.

If one definition of a failed state is a state that still exists but whose central government is so powerless that it loses control over its territory, fails to deliver public services and allows “non-state actors” to increasingly influence, if not take control, then Britain is well on its way.

That Brexit could lead to the break-up of the Union goes without saying. That the Government’s iniquitous “I’m alright, Jack”

attitude is constantly being underscored is a reality, just as malign non-state political players are also a reality on the UK’s streets. More and more of the UK’s citizens no longer believe that their government is really legitimate – yet another characteristic of a country on the road to failing.

IF you don’t believe me, listen to the global organisation whose task it is to monitor such things. Just a few months ago, the results of the annual Fragile States Index was published. Five countries made the rankings as this year’s “most worsened”.

While Venezuela and Brazil tied for the undesirable first place, the others who performed worst this year were Nicaragua, Togo and yes, you guessed it, the UK.

As the index in its summary report emphasised, even in high-functioning societies, it’s easy to find governments that are “every bit as clueless, corrupt and just plain incompetent as the most infamous underperformers on our annual list”.

Indeed it makes clear, too, that the very fact that these leadership failures are going on in more privileged environments like the UK suggests a greater degree of failure.

So much of UK politics right now is inhabited by a sense of arrogance and superiority and nowhere more so than in the Tory government’s own ranks. The fact that their inept and inadequate performance is increasingly akin to the flaws and feebleness of failed states is no coincidence.

This no longer is the Great Britain they imagine it to be. Instead, it’s a failing state lashing out with its last deluded and toxic kicks of a bygone notion of empire. Here in Scotland we must ensure that those responsible for such recklessness are sent packing and pay a heavy political price.