SUDDENLY, all bets are off. Say what you will about Keir Starmer’s conference speech but it’s turned the heids of commentators, media and middle England voters – aided by the economic meltdown prompted by Kwasi Kwarteng’s “not a budget” giveaway to spivs and speculators last Friday.

Since then, the wheels have come right off the Conservative’s rickety cart with the IMF’s unprecedented warning of serious economic damage, the Bank of England’s intervention to buy government bonds, news that pension funds came close to collapse yesterday while mortgage companies withdrew hundreds of products. Money experts forecast mortgage payments may double over the forthcoming year – to match doubled energy and food bills.

It’s a total nightmare and blaming it on President Putin simply won’t wash anymore for Liz Truss – not least because even the faithful Tory press have traced the current financial turmoil straight back to her Chancellor’s disastrously profligate financial statement.

And yet, even though 8.3 million Britons with mortgages are now on borrowed time and sleepless nights, there will be no official update for almost two months and the lady insists she is not for turning.

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Or she would if a conveniently timed Parliamentary recess for party conference season had not cancelled Prime Minister’s Questions this week and next.

Yip, the UK is going to hell in a hand cart with the Prime Minister nowhere to be seen, but although the opposition parties have united in a bid to recall parliament immediately, Labour isn’t demanding an early election – yet. Nor is the SNP.

It seems few want their carefully laid conference plans and long slow campaigns towards the 2024 General Election disturbed. And absolutely no-one wants a shell-shocked English electorate distracted as the penny finally drops that it’s the Tories – not Putin, Covid, Brussels or Labour – who’ve caused the current unprecedented collapse in governance and living standards.

If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, we may soon discover Red Wall voter fury is utterly incendiary.

It’s always unwise to count the Tories out prematurely, but their party is on the fast track to open revolt and electoral defeat.

The question for Scotland is, who will benefit?

Will it be the SNP, pledged to turn the next election into a de facto referendum on independence – or will it be Labour, an unashamedly Union-jack hugging party which nonetheless has a chance of winning at Westminster?

The good news is that change is in the air. The bad news is that Tory collapse won’t automatically produce victory for the SNP or for independence – unless Scotland’s party of government meets Labour’s perennial cry of “one more push” with imagination, verve and a convincing counter-narrative.

Sure, despite new levels of confidence at Labour’s Liverpool conference, there were several missteps for savvy Scots.

Starmer’s Great British Energy Company (GBE) is not just cringingly named (sponsorship of the Great British Bake Off might be next year’s exciting reveal) but it won’t tackle the North Sea free-for-all that lets oil and gas producers sell our natural resources to the highest international bidders, it won’t provide the gas storage so foolishly axed by the Tories in 2017 and it won’t re-nationalise Britain’s deeply broken energy market. GBE just creates another supply company to sit alongside the Big Six.

Ah, but the GBE will be … a publicly owned company. Huzzah!

What a low pass we’ve reached when that’s a surprise announcement for a Labour Party conference. What other kind of company would the “people’s party” contemplate – a cosy wee private outfit like Jacob Rees Mogg’s Somerset Capital perhaps? C’mon.

Still that image of excited delegates, roused immediately to their feet, eyes closed in ecstasy, arms outstretched as the promised land finally arrived – that image was extremely telling.

Labour Party members – starved of robust opposition to privatisation, corruption and Brexit-induced shortage under Keir Starmer’s leadership – went absolutely bonkers with just the tiniest sniff of a social democratic agenda.

Clearly, the GBE proposal has acted like political catnip upon the jaded sensibilities of Labour delegates.

But is the proposal quite so sensational-sounding for Scots?

Mibbes aye, mibbes naw.

In 2017 the Scottish Government promised to set up a publicly-owned, not-for-profit company to sell gas and electricity to customers at low prices by 2021. It didn’t happen. The SNP say work was halted during the pandemic, and efforts “refocused” on creating a public energy agency (not a company) to “coordinate and accelerate” the delivery of affordable heat and energy efficiency via district heating. Now a massive ramping up of district heating would be a definite result – if it actually happens.

Meantime, Great British Energy sounds impressive (especially if its limited scope isn’t probed by the media), and gives the impression that Labour not the SNP, is the party with big plans for renewable energy. This is beyond ironic.

New Labour was busy sitting on the fence when Alex Salmond single-handedly pushed onshore wind in the teeth of virulent Tory opposition. Today Labour wants to be seen as the biggest backer of nuclear power – the slowest, least cost-effective and most dangerous “renewable” energy source, whose deployment always stymies safer alternatives like tidal energy, where Scottish waters, companies and technologies lead the world.

Indeed, almost all the heavy lifting on renewable energy has been done in Scotland by SNP governments. But you don’t get prizes for resting on your laurels. Not from a worried, stressed, debt-ridden electorate.

THE SNP must get back on the front foot pronto with a better energy offer than Starmer and a clear warning that Westminster will snaffle Scotland’s renewable riches, just as surely it snaffled our oil and gas in the 70s. True, Keir Starmer would be doing the snaffling not the nasty Mrs T. But once established, GBE – financed by a British sovereign wealth fund – will create a new British-wide energy institution, hinting at a return to the “good old days” when British public services were delivered by British publicly-owned providers.

It may never happen.

But for some folk it’ll sound good.

Similarly, the half-truths told by Starmer and Anas Sarwar about Scottish Labour council victories will infuriate those who know the SNP was actually the largest party in Fife, Edinburgh and elsewhere, when Tory support let Labour take control. But how many Scots voters are aware of that detail?

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True – talking about the SNP and supporters as if they were a form of contagious disease was not particularly smart. And if Starmer thinks Gordon Brown’s long-awaited constitutional plan will be a game changer in Scotland – devolving stamp duty (already devolved), considering House of Lords abolition (again) and giving Scottish Governments three-year funding (just sensible) – he should think again. The leaked “highlights” confirm what many predicted – there’s nowt in it for Scotland.

Brown’s proposals might seem fiendishly radical south of the Border. But in Scotland – ploughing ahead with a 48p tax rate on high earners despite tabloid talk of dangerous tax chasms with England – not so much.

Still, complacency in the face of an ascendant Labour Party could be lethal.

There hasn’t been much policy or personality challenge to the SNP in the long years since 2014. But that’s about to change.

Can the SNP use its conference to shift gear and make the case for independence within a Labour-led UK? Because that – not five more years of Tory rule – suddenly looks far more likely.