RISHI Sunak has done some feeble things in his time. But his video Christmas message marked a new low.

In case you missed it, the Prime Minister sits at a Downing St desk, pencil in hand, and theatrically asks “Am I the only one here?”, before quitting work to let his hair down.

Of course, short hair doesn’t come down – as Rishi’s entire life and this 50-second clip amply demonstrate.

Left alone to do whatever he fancies, Rishi doesn’t spray-paint the walls or invite the posse round for a party (obvs) but bowls a cricket ball against stacked cans of Coca-Cola, (whoop, whoop) whips the wee chocolates aff the Christmas tree (as if this reed-thin man can even spell Quality Street) and pours maple syrup on spaghetti whilst watching Elf (so far out man).

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Larry the cat makes an appearance, slightly ducking as Rishi tries to kiss him. Yip, cats do know what they like.

Finally, the phone rings and Rishi tells the caller “Harry” it’s a wrong number. Now you have to rewind several times to get the name Harry – which you don’t. You have to remember Harry and Meghan were left off the royal Christmas invite list – which you won’t. And you have to give a toss about over-privileged people bickering in the first place. Which most Scots just dinnae.

In fact, the prime ministerial video performance was so completely lacking in charisma, you might suspect it was a cunning ruse.

Perhaps Sunak’s minders hoped that voters would survey this lame PM and conclude he could not conceivably have engineered a callous VIP fast lane, dodgy Covid contracts or Eat Out to Help Out scheme that probably killed thousands.

Schome mishtake shurely? Perhaps we were meant to conclude that Boris the Bam must have led the way, encouraging this hapless dad-dancing, overgrown boy scout of a chancellor to do uncharacteristically bad things against his own better judgement.

To be fair, such a strategy might have earned a grudging one out of 10 from the Riddoch jury for sheer gall. But clearly, that wasn’t the intent.

Sunak was actually trying to impress the electorate as a wholesome, hard-working, straight-up guy with a mildly whacky sense of humour. Purlease.

Scots queue up in the rain to see fearless, spiky comedians like Kevin Bridges, Frankie Boyle and Janey Godley shred the pompous targets of their ire into tiny pieces. Could Rishi’s weak Waitrose humour ever cut any ice here?


Astonishingly, some commentators fae sooth claimed the Prime Minister succeeded in carrying off his barking Hugh Grant tribute act. But those folk also thought Boris Johnson was a Renaissance guy, voted for him with gusto and predicted a second coming till the Covid scandals came thick and fast. Johnson believed he was innately special. No wonder he charmed folk desperate to believe the same self-deluding nonsense about themselves. Mercifully few live here.

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Not to put too fine a point on it, Scots don’t really like entitled southern Tories or indeed anyone who seems mannered and inauthentic. Not for nothing are Glaswegians known as the toughest audience in Britain. Their bullshit detectors are permanently switched on. And right now, they detect a politician about to sink without a trace – who knows it.

Sunak’s desperate attempt to look “normal” is just the latest in a long line of cringe-making efforts by doomed political leaders, who believe a glimpse of their “human” side can save them from political oblivion.

There was Gordon Brown’s unnerving rictus grin devised to humanise the clunking fist as he struggled to succeed Tony Blair during the 2010 General Election campaign. That grin flickered off and on like the leccy during Storm Gerrit – and served only to accentuate Brown’s general air of anxious gloom. Broon also commissioned Thatcher’s ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi to produce the toe-curling slogan – “Not Flash. Just Gordon” for the snap election he didn’t have the courage to call in 2007.

Henceforth, when voters thought of Gordon Brown, we were meant to see someone boring but inexplicably likeable. We didnae.

Then there was Iain Duncan Smith whose weird “quiet man” speech in his final outing as Tory leader in 2003 was described by a sympathetic commentator as “almost North Korean in its absurdity”.

Duncan Smith warned then PM Tony Blair that “the quiet man is here to stay and he’s turning up the volume” (whit?), brandishing an “IDS” card setting out his five core beliefs. Just 20 short days later, he lost a confidence vote amongst Tory MPs. If out-of-character attempts to look human/friendly/boring constitute the final throw of the dice by failing political leaders, Rishi’s Love Actually routine is proof positive. We are living through the dog days of an administration that knows it will soon be toast.

The only important question – who and what comes next?

Tragically, the answer is just another posturing prime minister.

A man named after his party’s working-class founder who somehow sports a peerage. A man who wants to transform a profoundly unequal country – using Tory spending plans. A man leading a party whose members defiantly march for peace every weekend but poses in combat gear with British troops in Estonia.

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Rishi and Keir. Two underwhelming men. Two peas in the same technocratic pod – tame, card-shuffling managers when Britain is crying out for bold leadership.

Whether it’s the climate crisis, the green transition, the housing crisis, the Brexit-related skills shortage or austerity-related decline in life expectancy – we face massive problems that require a confident, collaborative programme of transformational change.

A vision. An overview. Real life experience and real, steely determination to stop civil servants and government lawyers stalling long overdue action, because they can.

What’s the answer? Well, never mind Britain. Scotland needs another Tom Johnston. Urgently.

During four short years with “the powers of a benign dictator” as secretary of state for Scotland in Churchill’s 1940s wartime coalition, Johnston brought electricity to the Highlands via a network of hydro dams built on land forced from reluctant landowners.

Johnston skilfully deployed the threat of a “nationalist backlash” to negotiate higher than average Scottish public spending from London. Council house building continued during the war years in Scotland but nowhere else in the UK. This presumption of higher Scottish public spending eventually crystallised into the Barnett formula.

He attracted an estimated 700 businesses and 90,000 new jobs to Scotland through his Scottish Council of Industry. He regulated rents, set up 32 committees dealing with social and economic problems from juvenile delinquency to sheep farming and set up general hospitals to cope with wartime bombing – a forerunner of the NHS.

Johnston was an arch-persuader and a very practical man. Reluctant to accept Scotland’s top job at the age of 60, he drove a hard bargain with Churchill, insisting that all living former secretaries of state for Scotland advise him in a “council of state.” It was a smart move that minimised the danger of establishment reaction against radical market interventions.

Unlike Scottish Labour and the SNP today, Johnston backed powerful, small, municipal councils of the kind that have revolutionised life in the Nordic nations and post-war Germany. But Labour took a different centralist, paternalist direction and the rest, as they say, is history.

Our wartime Scottish Secretary was a successful trailblazer because he was not a technocrat, not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, not preoccupied with profile and not daunted by the enormity of the task.

Today, we know both candidates for the post of Prime Minister will merely rearrange the deckchairs on Britain’s sinking ship.

Despite inheriting a tired administration, some false starts and poorly communicated policies, Humza Yousaf can do better. His leadership over Gaza has been brave, eloquent and instinctive and has given Scots hope – something Messrs Sunak, Brown and Smith could not supply.

We need so much more from the SNP leader in 2024. But 2023 has been a beginning.