BEFORE they found out she was the Real Dope rather than the Real Deal, a section of the US Republican Party loved the way vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin taunted their Democratic opposition.

“So how’s that ‘hopey, changey’ thing working out for ya,” she lobbed at the ­Obama camp, given that the latter’s ­campaign had majored on both. (Their best-selling merchandise was a T-shirt with HOPE superimposed on Barack’s face).

On Friday, the morning after the by-election victory, I lost count of the number of times the Labour leadership and their Rutherglen and Hamilton West’s ­newly crowned MP used the C-word. Time for a change, they chorused, meaning from SNP to Labour, not the Tory-to-Labour ­message being retailed down south.

Sir Keir Starmer, up in Scotland more ­often than cross-Border trains these days, has always said that the route to a Labour victory in the UK runs through Scotland. And his tartan lieutenants have been ­lining up over the last 48 hours to insist that ­Michael Shanks MP is the harbinger of many Labour victories north of the border.

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They’re buoyed by a number of factors outwith the SNP’s control. One is the ­electoral timetable. A UK General Election will take place before the 2026 Scottish one. The Labour battle cry will be that only they can oust the Tory government since the Commons arithmetic renders the SNP’s Westminster troops largely impotent.

(Some of the SNP’s Westminster’s troops help make that argument by being ­altogether too comfortable on the green benches.) Then there is the conference chronology. I somehow doubt that Starmer is going into a Liverpool phone box this coming week in order to emerge as his party’s boldest ­superhero.

In fact, a number of Labour Party figures whose doctorate was in spin when Labour last succeeded have already gone on record worried that he’s being slowly strangled by his electoral caution. Be bold, they cry. Not sure their man has the right temperament for that change of gear.

But he will certainly be on a high ­after that 20% swing in Rutherglen and ­Hamilton West – twice the expectation. On a high too after the Prime Minister’s ­lacklustre ­conference, totally overshadowed by his own terminal indecision over the ­eventual HS2 terminus.

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Admittedly, the conference timetable gives Humza Yousaf the chance to have the last word this year, but first, he has to find the means of quelling the internecine warfare in his own ranks, and beyond.

One of the more dispiriting aspects of the by-election result was the glee with which people purporting to be ­independence supporters could barely contain their impatience to dance on what they had openly hoped would be the SNP’s grave. Schadenfreude and self-importance masquerading as timeless wisdom.

As the sainted John Curtice never tires of telling us, divided parties don’t win elections. And it is so. Any hope of ­independence is surely contingent on ­independence-minded folk making ­common cause, not stabbing someone in the front for having the temerity to voice a different strategy from their own well-polished gem of an idea.

Yet there is a genuine dilemma here for the still-new First Minister.

Does he ­battle on for the holy grail of independence as so many of his disenchanted troops have urged? Or does he accept that for a huge number of voters, pro-indy or not, they’re frankly too preoccupied with keeping the family’s head above water to spare a thought for matters constitutional?

It was both utterly depressing and ­totally unsurprising that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest poverty analysis showed how many families were failing to cope and how many children were ­going hungry when at least one parent was in work.

Back in Rutherglen, one of the most ­telling statistics from the poll was the ­level of abstention. While Labour won well, no question, they did so on the back of a 37% turnout which suggests that for some ­voters the chap with the “None Of The Above” rosette had widespread ­appeal.

That a chunk of the electorate is fair scunnered with politicians and all their works is not exactly a news flash but is something which should concentrate many party political minds.

So to that very “hopey, changey” thing that underpins most political victories. Everyone needs to be given hope that their future will improve, and the scarcely hidden fears of yesteryear’s top Labour strategists is that Starmer has trimmed so many sails on so many policies that the only offer left is: “But at least we’ll be ­better than the last lot.” Not a high bar, sadly.

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Change is an even trickier sell on both sides of the Border. In England, a ­Conservative administration so bereft of vision that it offers up the meagre fare of a gimmick a day. It’s difficult to sell change as a proposition when you’ve been in ­power for 13 years and burned through five prime ministers. (Difficult for the SNP too after 16 years before the mast).

And arguably difficult for Scottish ­Tories to disinter their battle-weary “No To Indy” paraphernalia and give it yet ­another whirl around the block. Though it’s not easy to visualise what any new ­offer could be.

Surely no time for Tories to reprise their familiar “don’t trust Labour with the economy line” when their own piggy bank can’t manage a discernible ­rattle, and Trussonomics has poisoned the ­electoral well for anyone with a mortgage. If an incoming Labour chancellor comes across a note saying there’s no money left, it will be nothing less than the truth.

In short, if the Tory Party were a small furry animal, it would be put out of its ­misery. Not that it’s ever had much ­relevance on our patch anyway – it’s not a good look failing to reach 4% of the poll and losing your deposit. The Monster Raving Loony Party can manage that for heaven’s sake.

Fixing the A75 running through Alister Jack’s constituency is hardly a vote-winner in Angus to say nothing of yet again ignoring the devolutionary rule book. (Though Fergus Ewing must be fit to be tied given that his own A9 duelling campaign still gathers dust.) It’s not as if the Conservatives can strut their stuff as the only true voice of the ­Union these days since most of the ­other parties, including Labour and the ­LibDems, are aboard the self-same ­Unionist train.

Don’t expect any formal reprise of Better Together either, it’s taken Labour a long time to live down playing formal footsie with Tories.

Just the same you could argue they’re still at it; steadfastly refusing to set their face against any of the more ­egregious policies enacted by the ­Conservative ­government. Not anti-Brexit, not scrapping the two-child limit on benefits, kicking any greenery into even longer grass.

As for high-speed trains to Manchester? Sir Keir is definitely, probably, possibly, in favour as long as he doesn’t have to make anything which might be ­interpreted as a commitment.

That’ll go down well with the ­farmers and homeowners already taken to the cleaners for making the mistake of ­thinking all these Tory prime ministers would keep their solemn promises.

Let’s be realistic here. Alba have no MSPs. The Greens have seven, one of whom is out the game as Presiding ­Officer. Their two ministerial posts – the price of parliamentary marriage to the SNP – are not exactly top of the SNP pops at ­membership level. As Humza will doubtless hear in Aberdeen.

So basically all Mr Yousaf has to do at his own conference is make a fabulous speech, heal a family at war, and hope the Plod don’t rain on his parade and turn up with another blue tent. What could possibly go wrong?