Richard Leonard has an image problem – here’s how he must change

Of the folk who’ve had their say

Many wish he’d go away.

So can he prove he’s fit to lead?

When most in Scotland won’t take heed

Of anything he has to say

(And some won’t give a yay or nay

When asked if they are satisfied

With the leader of their side).

He is the man who isn’t there

Shows of strong support are rare

Four colleagues tried to stage a coup

As the public pondered

“Richard who?”

You have to feel for the leader of Scottish Labour. He really is trying his best, I’m sure. But when your own supposed comrades think your time is up, and more than a quarter of your own party’s members just shrug when asked about your performance, it must be hard to keep soldiering on.

What is the alternative though, really? There’s a distinct shortage of talent among the Scottish Labour ranks, and aspiring MSPs would have to be pretty deluded to look at the performance of this once-mighty branch office and see the potential for a stellar political career. At least, in the short-term…

Let’s face it, the only context in which “Scottish Labour” will ever be relevant again is after independence – when we’ll have truly Scottish parties reflecting the diversity of the nation’s political views.

Until then, Leonard’s gang are chasing votes from the ever-dwindling proportion of Scots for whom preserving the Union is top priority. And of course, those voters have other options. They might even have the chance to vote for someone they can pick out of a line-up.

It’s awkward to speak about anyone or anything “going viral” these days, let alone politicians, but the reality is that getting your face out there – along with your short, snappy message – is absolutely vital. An MP or MSP is now more likely to start trending for taking a train or going to a shop than for making a blistering two-minute speech in parliament, so the watchwords are safety, brevity and simplicity.

Maybe it’s time for Leonard – who, let’s face it, is not the world’s greatest orator – to dispense with sentences and just share out pictures or slogans alongside strings of emojis.

The sad truth is that being diligent, even competent, just doesn’t “cut through” with voters, especially at a time when we’re all overloaded with news and politics, complex statistics and dire warnings. It doesn’t matter what policies you come up with, or which probing questions you pose at FMQs – if you lack pizzazz then

no-one will pay much attention.

Whereas in normal times a small-time party leader seeking to raise his profile could simply hurl himself down a children’s slide or give an interview in front of some rutting pigs, Covid restrictions make such stunts more difficult to organise, and the danger of one’s grinning face appearing near a death toll headline make them much too risky.

The rules apparently haven’t stopped a mask-free Willie Rennie playing a high-stakes game of trick or treat in Fife, but I’d suggest the “treat” of choice will be apples, hurled from the doorstep towards the garden gate with considerable force, and a bruised coupon isn’t a great look to be sporting in the Holyrood chamber.

So what could Richard Leonard do to rebrand himself, to ensure that everyone at least has some opinion of him and pollsters aren’t met with blank stares when his name is mentioned? In the interests of healthy democracy, I have some

free advice.

Firstly, it’s important to signal change and hope during autumn conference. We all want to look ahead to a brighter future as we sit alone at home watching politicians deliver their awkward, applause-free speeches. UK Labour opted

for “A New Leadership” as their slogan, which obviously won’t

work north of the Border unless

(and let’s not rule it out) the invisible man is overthrown in the next couple of weeks.

Instead, given the huge success of the New Labour rebranding exercise in the 1990s, what about “New Leonard”? It perfectly conveys two simultaneous messages – things are staying the same (stability, consistency) but they are also changing (he means business, he’s assertive, he’s pissed off with

Angela Rayner for calling him “Richard Lennon” and he’s not afraid to let her know).

Will that be enough though? I fear not. So perhaps he should turn a negative into a positive and just quietly change his name when no-one is paying attention to him (which, let’s face it, is almost all the time). Richard Leonard might sound like an IT consultant or supermarket regional manager, but I tell you who doesn’t – Richard Leopard.

Just think of the headlines: “Leopard goes for the jugular on Question Time”, “Sturgeon under pressure as Leopard’s ratings rise”, “Leopard demands protection for food standards and open access to all estates”.

There’s only one snag. We all know what they say about leopards, yet a fundamental change of position – on the need for indyref2, if not independence itself – is clearly needed if Scottish Labour are to have any chance of returning to their former glory. So that’s step one, and acquiring the spots is step two. If that’s not a purrfect strategy, I don’t know what is.

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