"I have no convictions", ace Jury Team by-election candidate John 'Smeato' Smeaton revealed at his press conference the other day. He didn't mean it quite that way, of course, but the statement could hardly have been more apt, given the startlingly bland non-opinions the man who claims to be ready to "set aboot Westminster" had been offering up to that point. Immigrants have been great for this country, but the system needs to be fairer. In what sense does it need to be fairer? Well, it just needs to be 'fairer all round'. Superb, Smeato - you'll really wipe the floor with us rascals who only want the immigration system to be partly fair. And as for his answer to the query about whether he supports elected select committees...well, it was difficult to escape the conclusion that he was trying to bluff his way out of the awkward fact that he had never previously encountered the term 'select committee'. No shame in that, of course, but I might have expected a 'man of the people' to be unapologetically honest about it.
So why on earth does a man who seemingly believes in nothing (save for the need to dispense the odd 'banjoing' when required) want to enter parliament? The truth is, of course, that this 'independent' candidate is dancing to someone else's tune, whether he realises it or not. And history tells us that Smeato simply can't resist being wanted - it doesn't really matter by whom. How else can we reconcile his cringe-inducing star turn during Gordon Brown's speech at the Labour party conference a couple of years ago with what he's been saying about Labour recently?
The effect of Smeato's intervention is also very difficult to judge at this stage. Assuming he can't win (although unlikelier bandwagons have taken off in the past), my guess is that he would appeal more to natural Labour voters, given his slightly authoritarian instincts (I think that's fair comment). So bad news for Labour, then? Well, not necessarily. For the SNP to have any chance of victory in such unbelievably tough terrain for them, they'd need to be claiming a shedload of precisely those type of natural Labour voters, just as they did in Glasgow East a year ago - they can't afford to see those votes siphoned off to a third candidate.
But one positive effect of Smeato's candidacy - he's finally injected some life into this interminable by-election, which thanks to Labour's refusal to move the writ we seem to have been anticipating since Bruce Forsyth was a lad.