Who is winning in Labour fight?

Elections tend to produce division - it is their intrinsic nature - but there is unity on one issue among the contenders for the Scottish Labour leadership: all three will support the strike action by public service workers on November the 30th.

Image copyright Other
Image caption The candidates include [from left] Ken Macintosh, Tom Harris and Johann Lamont

Indeed, Tom Harris, Johann Lamont and Ken Macintosh will each surrender a day's pay in order to demonstrate the extent of their backing.

Dual motivation, presumably.

Motive one, to reinforce the message to the UK government, particularly with regard to pensions. Motive two, to send a message to the union members whose votes can affect the outcome of the leadership contest.

In contrast, SNP members will attend Holyrood - to debate a motion which will be sharply critical of the UK government's handling of the pension negotiations, something already spotlighted by Alex Salmond and John Swinney.

Their tactical choice is that it is better to remain in parliament, representing constituents, while simultaneously criticising UK ministers over the issue which lies at the core of the strike.

For the Labour leadership contenders, though, the choice is somewhat narrower.

Within the arcane structure of Labour's electoral college, they rely directly upon the votes of union members alongside individual party members and affiliates.

So who is winning?

Hard to say, especially given that voting system in which an individual can wield several votes depending upon their membership of unions and affiliated societies.

Vote early, vote often.

The extent of nominations and other indicators would suggest that it will come down to a choice between the two MSPs, Johann Lamont and Ken Macintosh.

Tom Harris MP is fighting a feisty campaign - but failed to attract a single MSP to his side and is also lagging on declared support from councillors, local parties and unions.

All three are offering change: they could do no other after the calamitous defeat for the party at the Holyrood elections in May.

But there are obstacles.

Could Tom Harris credibly lead the Scottish party without support (or, indeed, membership) at Holyrood?

He points out that the contest is to lead the entire party, not just the Holyrood group, but that he would campaign to be the next first minister.

Each of the two MSP contenders faces a fundamental question mark.

Can Johann Lamont represent change when she was Iain Gray's deputy during the Holyrood election?

She says she can: that she has the experience, the skills and the party roots to effect transformation.

Union backing

Her pitch is that she can refashion Labour's offer on the basis of "a shared love of Scotland and a longing for justice and equality".

Ken Macintosh represents himself as the new face - with the implicit suggestion that he is better placed to break from the past.

His team argue that he is motivating younger members, including students.

But can he sustain that novelty pitch when he has been in Holyrood from the outset, since 1999? In what sense is he "new"?

Ms Lamont has support from more MSPs, Mr Macintosh more MPs. Each has a lengthy list of councillors and local parties on their side.

But Johann Lamont has endorsements from the biggest unions, notably Unison and Unite. Doesn't in any way guarantee that all members of those unions who pay the political levy will back her - but could well be influential.

Whoever surmounts the internal challenges to win will then face a huge external challenge - in the shape of the majority SNP at Holyrood.

But then they knew that already.