WHAT the heck has happened to Labour’s female leadership contenders?

Women in politics are generally seen as co-operative, collaborative, empathetic and less compulsively confrontational than the blokes.

Yet two of the four women in the Labour leadership race seem intent on out-toughing the Tories (and their male colleagues) by snubbing the democratic aspirations of Scots – whilst delivering a “change to survive” message in Brexit England.

Lisa Nandy got the wrecking-ball rolling this week, when she announced plans for “an international commission, led by and for Scottish people, that seeks to learn from a few examples in modern history [where] the cause of social justice has beaten divisive nationalism”.

Really? It’s hard to muster the energy to rebut this cliched, last-century stuff. As former Labour voters in Scotland could tell Ms Nandy, the SNP has already enacted many of the “radical” proposals contained in Labour’s UK 2019 manifesto and will deliver others, like a publicly owned railway, when greater devolution permits. The Scottish Government has mitigated the bedroom tax for years and will soon roll out a new Scotland-only child benefit, backed by every third-sector organisation in the country. Social justice versus divisive nationalism? These aren’t polar opposites in the eyes of most Scots. And weary talk of “divisive nationalism” just marks the speaker out as a bit of an automaton. Commentators and academics agree that Scotland has produced a “civic nationalism” – motivated by the desire for a better, fairer society, not by ethnic, linguistic or religious difference. Finally, any study of socialism across Europe will show that independence parties like the SNP didn’t have to be set up in neighbouring Norway or Iceland, because the Labour Party led the way.


READ MORE: Lisa Nandy proposes 'international commission' against independence

But if Lisa Nandy’s contribution was off-beam, its timing was significant. Days earlier, rival Rebecca Long-Bailey said she wouldn’t stand in the way of indyref2 and Clive Lewis declared that a second vote was “unavoidable”.

Perhaps the Wigan MP decided the only way to get noticed and put clear red water between herself and Corbyn’s “anointed successor” Rebecca Long-Bailey, was to take a totally different stance on Scottish sovereignty.

Perhaps she also noticed that Clive Lewis had become the first big casualty in the Labour leadership race.

Whatever her reasoning, Lisa Nandy’s international commission got short shrift north of the Border.

READ MORE: Clive Lewis: Scotland has the right to decide its own future

Weirdly though, this seemed to embolden the other female leadership contender Jess Phillips, who visited Glasgow this week, tweeting: “The idea that the answer to the UK leaving a union with our most important trading partner is for Scotland to leave a union with her most important trading partner only makes sense if you’re a nationalist.

“The SNP’s abject failings on education and health show that it is your administration that remains a threat to opportunity and equality for working people in Scotland.”

She insisted that Labour’s compassion “doesn’t end at an imaginary line on a map” (it’s called a border, actually) and scoffed at the notion that voters would raise Devo-max or federalism on the doorstep (indeed, most Glaswegians gave up on these imaginary halfway houses a long time ago). Instead, Phillips predicted, education, roads and the health service were more important to Scottish voters.

The National: Jess Phillips has played hardball with independence supportersJess Phillips has played hardball with independence supporters

Again, Yessers wouldn’t disagree. The ability to completely reshape our society and economy is why most of us want independence. In short, her performance was a totally embarrassing miscall.

So why play hardball with Yes supporters – the very voters Labour need to win back? Maybe it was the bright idea of Phillips’s new adviser – Better Together’s Blair McDougall. Maybe getting pelters on a trip north has become a secret badge of pride for English Labour MPs? Or maybe Jess Phillips believes that a hard-line, anti-independence position is the best route through to the next round of Labour’s leadership contest.

After all, Scotland contains a whopping 73 constituency associations, because the Labour Party organises at a Holyrood level. Win them, and you’re pretty well guaranteed safe passage – unless Labour Scottish branches are undergoing the same Damascene conversion to the democratic case for indyref2 as their leader, Richard Leonard.

It would be awfy ironic if Jess Phillips failed to win nominations because she managed to out-Unionist the Scottish Labour Party.

READ MORE: Jess Phillips: Scots 'would not be asking me about devo-max'

This might explain Jess Phillips’s hostile position – but what about Lisa Nandy?

There’s been no more detail about her international commission and no reply to an email from myself asking if she’d actually spent time in Scotland lately.

OK, that was a bit cheeky and I suppose Ms Nandy is kinda busy. So, here’s my best guess.

My impression is that Lisa Nandy views Scottish independence as similar to independence for Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, but less credible because Scotland doesn’t top their combined population.

The clue lies in her talk of “a red bridge that connects our towns and cities and stretches from Dagenham and Fulham, Aberdeen to Glasgow and Cardiff to Wrexham”.

Scotland is just another set of cities, towns, bogs and islands – not a nation or a country.

Clearly, this “size matters” approach fails to grasp a basic, constitutional reality. Even if Scotland had just 500 thousand people not five million, it would still have more viability as an independent state than random bits of England and a greater right to self-determination. Why – because Scotland is an ancient nation, not just an administrative area, with its own distinctive legal and education systems, history, political outlook, languages and culture. Crucially, Scotland entered the Union as a nation, and can choose to withdraw as a nation. Manchester didnae and now cannae.

Besides this customary constitutional ignorance though, there’s another factor at play – an unaccountably stark contrast between “tough love” towards ex-Labour voters in Scotland and a softly, softly wooing of “errant” Labour members in England.

Remain-supporting MPs like Nandy and Phillips have professed themselves willing to dump deeply held convictions in Brexit England, if that re-engages lost supporters. No leadership candidate wants to antagonise recently lost North of England voters – it would be political suicide.

READ MORE: Lesley Riddoch: Holyrood must be ready for Boris Johnson's power grab

But independence supporting ex-Labour voters in Scotland are getting a good ticking off. There’s no attempt to respect their “journey”, no attempt to woo them back, no conciliatory words or altered policies – at least not from Lisa Nandy or Jess Phillips. Did no internal alarm go off when Jess Phillips found herself agreeing with Boris “No forever” Johnson on Scotland’s future? Blair McDougall is advising her, of course. But doesn’t some basic instinct warn a politician when they’ve started insulting the intelligence and integrity of the very people they need to win back?

Why don’t these Labour leadership candidates feel any need to try and woo lost Scots voters?

Maybe they realise that progressive Scots are now beyond their reach, beyond any appeal - just plain gone.

If so, a leader worthy of the title would now be considering something bold.

Change to survive – in Scotland as well as England.

Front-runner Keir Starmer and contender Emily Thornberry have yet to visit Scotland and show his hand on our constitutional dilemma.

Hopefully they can learn from their colleagues’ big mistakes.