The 'joys' of being in opposition

We are into the final week at Holyrood before the recess. In traditional style, this present Parliamentary round will close with . . . the Royal opening.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Queen is formally opening the new parliament, a ceremony she has conducted before

I know it sounds like a chapter from my favourite work of political analysis (Alice through the Looking Glass) - but there is a logic to it.

Her Majesty is opening the entire five year session (prolonged an extra annum to avoid a clash with Westminster elections) - not just the current wee bit which stumbles to a halt this week; sans bills, sans budget, sans everything.

SNP ministers plan a summer tour, taking their cabinet gigs to sundry points around Scotland. Watch out: they could be playing a theatre near you.

They say they will be back, fully refreshed, in the autumn (you know, third season, identical weather to the others, mist and rain).

At that point, they will set out their legislative programme. They will set out their new budget plans. And they will consult, fully, on the anti-sectarianism measure.

But who will scrutinise them? Who will keep watch from the opposition benches?

Willie Rennie is in place for the Liberal Democrats, compensating rather effectively for lack of numbers with high-energy endeavour.

He even had the chutzpah to claim the credit for delaying the said anti-sectarianism bill.

Annabel Goldie will be replaced as Tory leader following a reform of the party's structures. Her current Holyrood deputy Murdo Fraser appears favourite, although Jackson Carlaw has his advocates.

Which brings us to Labour. Who should carry the responsibility of leading Scotland's largest opposition party at Holyrood - and contributing to efforts by the largest opposition party at Westminster?

Johann Lamont? Jackie Baillie? Ken Macintosh? Or how about . . . Iain Gray?

Not long term, you understand. But perhaps until new rules are in place which could change the nature of the leadership post in Scotland.

As this blog has repeatedly noted, the party which legislated for Scottish devolution is itself the least devolved of all the political parties in Scotland.

The SNP, of course, are entirely a Scottish party - and, in part, thrive as a consequence when elections are solely focused upon Scotland.

The Lib Dems in Scotland are autonomous members of a federal set-up.

Indeed, in the last Holyrood elections, they tried to stress their autonomy and to play down the link with their unpopular, federal, coalesced colleagues. With minimal effect.

Following an internal review, the Tories are now moving towards a structure which will give a sharper definition to the party in Scotland and consequently to the Scottish leader.

Labour have yet to follow suit. Their leader in Scotland is Ed Miliband.

Iain Gray is "Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament". He does not lead the Scottish MPs. Which means he does not control party HQ in Scotland.

Now there is a Labour review in place, under the charge of Jim Murphy MP and Sarah Boyack MSP.

One issue for that review is whether there should be an elected leader for the whole of the party in Scotland.

As I recall, Andy Kerr advocated just such a course when he contested the leadership last time out. Mr Gray believed such a development would emerge.

Herein lies the argument for a delay in Mr Gray's departure. Would it be sensible, it is said, to appoint a new Holyrood leader - when the review might well result in recommending a full Scottish leadership?

Image caption Iain Gray previously announced his plan to quit as Labour leader in the autumn

Should Iain Gray be prepared to stay on until, perhaps, the spring to allow an orderly succession?

Several issues arise. There will be voices in the party - notably on the Westminster back benches - who will strongly dislike the notion of a full-scale Scottish Labour Leader who might have more clout at John Smith House.

The party will be open to satire and derision from political opponents who will say that the problem is not Labour rules - but the dearth of credible leadership contenders at Holyrood.

These and other matters have yet to be settled.

But consider this. You may think it is tough being in government and having to deal with issues like the U-turn on the anti-sectarianism bill. And it is.

But contemplate the joys of being in opposition with no evident successor to your departing leader and no clear plan, yet, for electing that successor.

Labour will get there - but the present travails owe much to the earlier neglect of potential internal party reforms.