WHAT are the Scottish LibDems actually for?

As Alex Cole-Hamilton cheerfully pumps out weary nonsense in his quest to lead a party of four MSPs, some might be secretly impressed by his sheer brass-neck, others maddened by his insistence Nicola Sturgeon has no indyref2 mandate, but the vast majority of voters will give not a flying wotsit either way.

It takes courage, arrogance, a thick skin or mystic vision to embrace such a grim reality. And let’s be honest, in the case of the quick to anger Mr Cole-Hamilton, it really ain’t a case of the latter.

Ironically Yessers probably breathe more life into the fifth party of Scottish politics, than the first (and probably only) leadership candidate would ever manage on his ownsome. Personally, I’m left wondering where he finds the energy, optimism and sense of purpose to keep going.

READ MORE: Ruth Wishart: LibDems' lack of depth suits Alex Cole-Hamilton just fine

Consider. In 2010 the Scottish LibDems had 16 MSPs. In 2011 that crashed to five and now with just four, the party has fewer MSPs than there are Spice Girls. There’s a pattern and it doesn’t take a genius to spot. For ACH and the Scottish LibDems the only way is down. Not because of personalities – weak or strong – but because the self-styled party of constitutional change that once championed PR, Europe and federalism has bottled the most popular constitutional change of the lot. Independence is somehow the “wrong pile of leaves on the democratic line” for a party that talks a good game but has failed to deliver anything.

Now the LibDems are just the “in between” option for voters. Not Tory. Not Labour. Not SNP. Not Green. Just LibDem. How you vote when you know your preferred Tory candidate won’t get in. Such knowledge would crush the enthusiasm of lesser mortals. Not Alex Cole-Hamilton, ready to take his party on its next step towards oblivion.

I ken that might seem a bit harsh. After all, the SNP had thin years. But that party always had something extra oiling the engine. Something recharging the batteries. A goal. A purpose. A vision.

What do the LibDems have, especially in Scotland?

Opportunists extraordinaire, they lost all credibility supporting David Cameron in the ConDem coalition. Just for the record, Jo Swinson voted 11 times for the bedroom tax, five times against raising benefits in line with inflation, seven times for disability cuts and 26 times for general welfare cuts.

That might feel like ancient history, but leadership candidates like ACH are saddled with it and lack the grace, personality or gravitas to outrun their party’s terrible track record.

READ MORE: Alex Cole-Hamilton claims Nicola Sturgeon's mandate for indyref2 is 'no good'

So, since he seems a shoo-in, what kind of leader will Alex Cole-Hamilton be?

Hardly a political heavyweight, muscular bouncer or feared operator, the Edinburgh Western MSP and LibDems health spokesperson at Holyrood is considered a rising star after being ranked 27 out of 50 in a list of Top LibDems last year. Titter ye not.

Alex Cole-Hamilton will have a decision to make but will he ape the Tory leader or seek to realign with Labour?

His short parliamentary career is chequered. He certainly swore silently at Children’s Minister Maree Todd (above). And whether he was the source of leaks during the Salmond inquiry, it’s not a great look for a party leader.

Will Jo Swinson try to stage a comeback? She still has the groundless self-belief to give it a try. But since the gal who would be prime minister lost her seat to the SNP’s Amy Callaghan in 2019, no-one is speaking her name.

The party’s quirky wing is (please God) about to disappear with Willie “Giant Deckchair” Rennie. He’s been a popular MSP in North East Fife but was elected only because of tactical Tory voting.

So, what will the LibDems’ sole leadership contender do with his bonsai political party?

Cosy up to Anas Sarwar, even though most left-leaning voters won’t vote for either Unionist party anymore? Or mirror Douglas Ross, unbiddable, rigid, angry and a Scottish embodiment of No Surrender?

READ MORE: Charting the rise and fall of the formerly mighty Liberal Party

Cole-Hamilton’s combative temperament doubtless leads him towards the Tories in the forlorn hope of peeling off some of their 31 Scottish seats.

But there’s the snag. The party’s name. Scottish Liberal. Democrat.

A party that upholds fairness, equality and the importance of the democratic process in Scotland yet stubbornly opposes a second independence referendum – the fairest way to settle the constitutional divide and clearly now the settled will of most Scottish voters.

That might seem like smart politics for a politician aiming to outdo Douglas “Just Keep Saying No” Ross. But history suggests otherwise.

Alex Cole-Hamilton will have a decision to make but will he ape the Tory leader or seek to realign with Labour?

What’s happening now in Scotland repeats the dilemma facing Liberal governments of the 1880s, when Gladstone’s attempts to cobble together a Home Rule Bill for Ireland were defeated by Unionists within his own party. A real devolution settlement wouldn’t have halted Irish independence but it might have averted the violence that surrounded it, provided a template for Scotland and transformed Britain into a genuinely federal state 100 years ago.

NO point speculating of course, because none of this happened. Not only did Unionism swiftly reassert itself after the First World War, but in failing to deliver on its big constitutional promise, Liberalism destroyed itself as a governing party.

And all the zany photo calls, gimmicks with deck chairs and irritating individuals in the world can’t conceal that hard truth or give the party a coherent, radical sense of purpose.

Take the current UK party leader Sir Ed Davey, who accepted a gong from the Tories for losing his seat after the coalition debacle. On Sir Ed’s watch as energy minister, subsidies for community hydro and solar panels were cut and vital subsea connectors to the Northern and Western Isles vetoed.

Even though Alistair Carmichael was Scottish Secretary at the time, the long-awaited Northern Isles cables weren’t built on the LibDems’ watch. Mind you, Sir Ed did approve connectors to Norway and Ireland instead. Nice.

He also introduced contracts for difference instead of subsidies for wind and marine renewables – but somehow Scottish firms have won only a handful of contracts. Soon after losing his seat in 2015, Ed joined the PR firm that represents EDF Energy, which had just been awarded the contract to build Hinkley Point C nuclear power station by … Ed Davey. No wonder the Greens have stolen the LibDems’ wobbly “green” credentials.

And Brexit? Dinnae get me started.

Alex Cole-Hamilton will have a decision to make but will he ape the Tory leader or seek to realign with Labour?

Jo Swinson’s “Bollocks to Brexit” policy promised to revoke Article 50 if her party were elected to govern. But it only existed as a bullet-proof legal option because of cross-party legal action by Joanna Cherry, Andy Wightman plus other SNP, Scottish Green and Labour politicians – a formidable group from which the LibDems unaccountably decided to absent themselves. Poor.

Yet Alex Cole-Hamilton was happy to endorse Ms Swinson’s stance – that a LibDem election victory would be sufficient in itself to reverse the Brexit result without recourse to a further referendum, because Brexit was so catastrophic it was worth breaking all the rules.

And then – when the going got rough – and “Get Brexit Done” Boris was elected, opposition to Brexit was unceremoniously dumped.

So good luck Alex, since you look like the only leadership contender.

No need to think of a snappy new slogan for your time at the helm of the Scottish LibDems. It’s already in place for Yes voters.

One rule for Brexit – another for independence. End of.