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Let the battle begin

Brian Taylor | 13:11 UK time, Friday, 1 August 2008

I wince in anticipation. At some point in this Labour leadership contest, someone will intone, sententiously, that political leadership is about policy not personality. Heads will nod sagely.

This is, of course, tosh. Bilge. Piffle. That does not, however, prevent it being presented as incontestable fact by some. This is tosh with a shelf life.

When you elect a leader, you are not simply selecting an automaton who will delve into a data base of pre-picked policies, using a search engine to find the right one.

You are, or should be, electing a person of integrity, sense and judgement who will decide what approach should be followed in a given set of circumstances, heavily influenced of course by those pre-selected policies.

You doubt me? Drop the word "personality". It is too tainted by celebrity telly. Insert instead the word "character."

You are looking for someone with the character to withstand the eventualities which occur. If every event could be foreseen, then one might stand ready with a pre-set basket of policies to apply like limp poultices.

However, events cannot be entirely foreseen. Hence the search for someone with the right character.

Of course, of course, one expects a leader to implement as far as possible a given set of policies. The choice of those policies in the first place often reflects the character and judgement of the leader anyway.

So, self-evidently, the policies have to be right. But character matters too - and it will be to the fore in this Scottish Labour election.

Each of the three contenders - Iain Gray, Cathy Jamieson and Andy Kerr - has talent and experience. Each has served in the Scottish Cabinet. Each is a decent despatch box performer.

As to policy, Cathy Jamieson is demonstrating signs of reflecting her Left-wing credentials, masked somewhat during the constraints of serving in government.

Those credentials are emphasised by her nominating supporters - although they are not all of the discernible Left and there are Left-leaning MSPs in the other camps.

Andy Kerr is stressing the need for the writ of the leadership to extend beyond Holyrood.

His rivals tend to prefer to let that one slide a little, presuming that the role will be defined by the mandate in practice. In other words, a leader who is facing the test of winning support across the party, including from MPs, will be entitled to expect wide-ranging loyalty.

Iain Gray is playing to some extent upon his cross-Parliament experience as first a Scottish Cabinet Minister and then a special adviser in the Scotland Office.

Admittedly, this breadth of opportunity only arose after he was liberated by the electorate in 2003.

Each of the contenders will, apparently, be making strenuous efforts to listen and learn. Oh, stop it, Brian. Quit the light mockery. What else can they say after calamitous defeat last May and in Glasgow East?

You get the core point, presumably. This is not a grand ideological battle. Yes, it is about policy. But it is about character too. Who is best placed to rescue Scottish Labour and take the fight to Alex Salmond? (It may, of course, turn out that the battle is beyond any of the three. But that is the choice.)

PS: Here's a fun game to play. Have a glance at the nomination lists in the Labour contest.

Find out whether your MSP has been bold or foolhardy enough to state a preference. Try to calculate why. Hours of harmless fun.

Note that none of the contenders for leadership has nominated a deputy. Sensible move. That would amount to running as a ticket. There is no fully-fledged, agreed ideological ticket. See above.

To be clear, Bill Butler, a deputy leadership contender, has nominated Cathy Jamieson for the top job - part of the Left-wing slate noted earlier. Johann Lamont, his rival for the deputy post, has made no such nomination.

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