I once recall a journalist (no idea who it was, or in which paper) delivering the ultimate devastating dismissal of a politician's entire career - "I bet Geoff Hoon thinks he's a great communicator". Well, quite. We're not talking about a heavyweight here, and even with the assistance of (ahem) Patricia Hewitt, logic would seem to dictate that he's unlikely to succeed where James Purnell failed. However, one way or another we appear to finally be into the endgame of almost two years' worth of speculation about the Labour leadership, so it's at least worth pondering the impact Gordon Brown's abrupt departure would have on the outcome of the general election here in Scotland.
In one sense it seems obvious that having a Scottish leader has been a boon for Labour north of of the border, as it was for the Liberal Democrats under Charles Kennedy. Polling consistently shows that Scots hold Brown in a much higher regard than the rest of the UK. This must be having some kind of impact on voting intention figures, and thus, it might be supposed, suppressing the potential strength of the SNP, among others. There can be little doubt that Charles Kennedy's popularity caused particular harm to the SNP in the 2005 Westminster election.
But there's the rub - popularity. The fact that Brown is significantly more liked in Scotland than in England, where he's held in record-breaking low esteem, scarcely makes him "popular in Scotland". A much more impressive Labour leader could easily find themselves more popular than Brown in Scotland, even if they were less popular here than in England and Wales. So, paradoxically, it's theoretically possible that Scottish Labour could find themselves better off - and the SNP by extension worse off - with a change of leadership, especially if the new Prime Minister had momentum behind them that seemed to be taking them (and Labour) to what until recently would have seemed a highly improbable general election triumph.
Just one snag, though. Where is the Labour leader with the personal qualities to actually do that? Until a few weeks ago, I might have concurred with the general consensus that Alan Johnson was the one potential candidate with sufficient charisma, but his poor judgement over the Gary McKinnon extradition (and more to the point his angry defence of that poor judgement) destroyed that illusion once and for all. It, presumably, goes without saying that either Harriet Harman or Ed Balls would be an even greater disaster in Scotland than they would be across the UK as a whole. So who does that leave? David Miliband? Perhaps he's had enough time to recover from his 'Bananaman' moment, but on the whole I'm unconvinced.
So as things stand, my gut feeling is that a change of leadership would not help Labour's fortunes across the UK, and therefore the loss of the 'Scottish leader bonus' would be a blow to the party in Scotland. So, for my money, the SNP should be getting their prayer-mats out and hoping that this plot succeeds, although on past form I'm not holding my breath.