IN the absence of anything remotely positive to say in support of the Union, Scotland’s opposition parties have withered badly. Reduced to mouthing each other’s insults about independence, the Scottish Tories and their Labour allies have been routed in every election under all jurisdictions held in Scotland since 2011.

Each has taken refuge in the dubious consolation that overwhelming support for the SNP hasn’t quite travelled into full-blown support for outright independence (though recent polls indicate that crucial bridge has been crossed). There are two ways of looking at this, of course. It suggests a significant number of voters are happy enough with the SNP’s day-to-day management of devolved Scotland but recoil at the risk of eternal separation from the British state.

The other explanation is far more problematic for the Tories and Labour in Scotland: that they are perceived as being so weak

and incapable that tens of thousands of Unionists can’t even bear the notion of sparing them a vote at the odd election.

These parties consistently attack the SNP on their stewardship of health and education, as you would expect any opposition to do. The terrain covered by these departments is so wide and sprawling that it’s not difficult to locate weaknesses in even the most able of administrations.

But when a significant number of Scottish Unionists don’t take your criticisms seriously, then you really do have problems in being regarded as an authentic and fully-functioning electoral force.

Thus Labour and the Tories in Scotland, devoid of anything innovative or clever to offer voters, are reduced each year to defaming the independence movement and relying on selected media lapdogs to carry the message.

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As neither party looks remotely like gaining power in Scotland any time soon, they have been starved of quality in their ranks. Why would anyone in Scotland possessing a sharp and agile mind and with ambitious ideas about our future governance want to waste their best years sitting in eternal opposition and having to show loyalty to a succession of leaders lacking in any long-term vision for Scotland beyond what their Westminster chiefs tell them?

Consequently, these two parties have become extravagant job creation factories for the mediocre and the third-rate attracted by a decent salary for a few years and the chance to save some money and gather networking opportunities for their post-political careers. They contribute little beyond membership of Holyrood committees and the chance of appearing on the Scotland channel’s nightly news show and before its disappearing audience.

Right now, Scotland’s opposition Unionist parties are in the hands of a group of individuals occupying the motley extreme of bizarre. The Tories have a newly minted baroness who gets upset if you call her baroness. She’s holding the reins for a part-time football linesman whose only contribution to Scottish public life thus far has been to worry Gypsies and travellers.

Labour are currently led by a man who is walking down a very long plank. The party’s only Westminster representative, Ian Murray, recently had discussions about joining the Liberal Democrats and was caught urging Londoners to demand their money back from Scotland, the country he represents. The LibDems themselves are piloted by a chap who only gets his picture taken when there are farmyard animals in the vicinity.

Certainly, this doesn’t exactly portend well for the future course of devolved government in Scotland. We have effectively become a one-party state. But whose fault is that? The SNP have been served at Holyrood by a number of charismatic and statesman-like politicians who seem comfortable in front of a camera and microphone and command respect beyond Holyrood’s media and political bubbles.

I’M not suggesting the SNP are home to political titans whose vision and bearing inspire the masses. But they seem to prevail under the scrutiny of an almost universally hostile press and a BBC Scotland which has become a comic-book facsimile of what grown-up and objective journalism ought to be. Have another look at its recent television documentary on the Alex Salmond trial if you doubt this.

The SNP may soon have their own personnel problems following the departure next year of several of the party’s most able and experienced politicians. As yet, I’ve seen little evidence that those who are seeking to replace them are anything more (with some notable exceptions) than a howling band of charmless lightweights intent on using the SNP’s political dominance to advance their absurd delusions on human biology while attempting to criminalise the rest of us just for saying so.

It probably won’t matter though, owing to the persistent amateurism of their closest political rivals.

And so perhaps you can’t fault the English gentleman leftie Will Hutton for suggesting a new idea of his own to provide Scottish Labour with some backbone.

Hutton, an Oxford University principal specialising in polite economics, occasionally addresses Scottish issues in the manner of a chap who’s just been invited to join a shooting party in Perthshire, despite having spent some time at Paisley Grammar.

Hutton wants Labour types to construct what he calls a left-wing patriotism to counteract the dynamic patriotism of the Yes movement in Scotland. Compared with this inchoate, ignorant and badly-written nonsense Scottish Labour actually begin to look adequate.

The idea the left should adopt patriotism in any of its endeavours is normally the exclusive domain leader-writers at The Sun. Whenever patriotism is afoot you can be sure it’s being used to shift our gaze from another act of establishment larceny.

Perhaps we could have live coverage of the northern pigeon-fancying championships with members of the royal family in attendance in the royal pigeon loft.

There could be annual royal commemorations of pit closures in Yorkshire and Prince Edward could lead a jaunty re-enactment of the Jarrow March.

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The Post Office could issue stamps and Peter Kay could provide a cheery BBC commentary of the proceedings. BBC Four could devote an entire day to edgy northern dramas such as Boys from the Blackstuff and Get Carter. Hutton himself could publish a treatise on the economic benefits of hare-coursing and ferrets.

This obsession with the idea that when all else fails patriotism will stand upright and strong against England’s enemies is the great falsehood that has fuelled Brexit and given us Boris Johnson.

It fails to understand that if Scotland is to gain her independence it will have done so by first having rejected such contrivances. Self-confidence is the driver of independence. Patriotism we can leave to the self-deluded.