Although I share Jeff's concerns about the way the wind seems to be blowing with just eleven months to go until the next Holyrood poll, I must say I couldn't disagree more with certain parts of his diagnosis of the problem. Specifically, the suggestion that the SNP would do better with Nicola Sturgeon rather than Alex Salmond at the helm seems to me fundamentally misguided. Nicola will be a fine leader when the moment arrives, but if anyone needs a reminder of the folly of assuming the grass is always greener on the other side, just think back to the naive hopes for how the SNP might somehow benefit from Salmond's first departure as leader back in 2000. Whatever his political skills, the theory went, Salmond was simply too abrasive and divisive a figure, and John Swinney - regarded almost universally as the nicest man in Scottish politics - would be able to assemble a far broader coalition of support. The logic seemed impeccable, and indeed even Salmond seems to have convinced himself of it. As it turned out, polls consistently showed that Swinney was regarded as the least impressive of the four party leaders, and the SNP went on to suffer the painful loss of eight seats in the 2003 election.
In contrast, Salmond today - for all that the honeymoon may be long over - is still clearly the most popular of the party leaders, and indeed is far and away the most impressive Scot currently in active politics at any level. Yes, the SNP face a huge challenge to retain power next year, but that - much as it's always uncomfortable to acknowledge a degree of powerlessness - has very little to do with anything the SNP have done wrong, and has everything to do with the outcome of the UK general election. In the months leading up to the election, I repeatedly said in my contributions at Political Betting that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the SNP ought to be hoping for Labour to somehow pull off a surprise win. Now that Labour are in opposition at Westminster, the SNP lose the advantage of being able to galvanise an angry anti-Labour vote, while Labour regain the advantage they used to enjoy of being the default repository for much of what might be termed the 'gut anti-Tory vote'. At a stroke, the Scottish political weather has changed, without anyone actually doing much to 'forfeit' or 'earn' it.
However, it's far too early to abandon hope - and the most important reason for that is precisely because Alex Salmond is a class apart from Iain "the Snarl" Gray. The electorate know that perfectly well, and will receive a timely reminder of the fact during the televised leaders' debates next spring.