scotland independence
Jim Murphy is greeted by a man in a chicken suit carrying boxes of eggs (insert your own joke here). Getty

This isn't going well so far. When Johann Lamont resigned as Scottish Labour "leader" on the grounds that the Scottish party was being treated by London as a branch office, it was surely self-evident that the number one qualification for any would-be replacement was that they look like the sort of person capable of laying down some much-needed boundaries.

Instead, Labour have somehow come up with Jim Murphy, an ultra-Blairite Westminster MP and member of Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet, as the frontrunner to succeed Lamont. Given that the current deputy leader is also at Westminster and has made clear that he has no intention of doing anything helpful like standing down, it now looks perfectly possible that Scottish Labour is going to be directly run from London in an even more literal sense than before.

If that happens, the party's group in the Scottish Parliament will find itself headed on a caretaker basis by someone who is effectively only the fourth-in-command, because they'll be outranked by no fewer than three London-based politicians - the leader, the deputy leader and the Shadow Scottish Secretary.

Doubtless Labour will try to excuse the absurdity of the situation by pointing out that the SNP were once led by Alex Salmond from Westminster for two-and-a-half years. But that comparison doesn't work, and not only because the SNP group at Holyrood was headed by the party's deputy leader during that period.

The more fundamental point is that Salmond was his own boss at Westminster. By contrast, Murphy will presumably be "leading" his party as a backbench MP who is required to submit to the instructions of Miliband's whips, and indeed to drop everything that is going on in Scotland and travel to London for a parliamentary vote whenever a three-line-whip is imposed. How is someone in that position supposed to convince a sceptical public that the buck stops with him?

There is the argument, of course, that it's worth going through any amount of pain in order to get a "heavyweight" politician installed as leader. But I'll have to be honest at this point and say that I've never understood what Murphy has done to deserve the gushing write-ups he often receives from London commentators, some of whom have implausibly regarded him as a potential future Prime Minister.

OK, he's a much more capable politician than Lamont (who isn't?), but he's scarcely another Gordon Brown or John Smith in the making. His speaking style is particularly ill-suited to the task of connecting with the public. The hushed woodenness of his delivery coupled with an all-pervading air of condescension reminds me of a slightly creepy storyteller on Jackanory. I almost expect him to finish every sentence with "that's right, isn't it, boys and girls?"

Johann Lamont and Ed Miliband
It was never going to be hard to improve on Yohann Lamont. Reuters

Perhaps I'm missing something. Maybe after decades of the political centre-of-gravity in the UK trundling relentlessly to the authoritarian right, journalists are correct to think that voters in Middle England love nothing more than being talked down to by the likes of Murphy. But there does seem to be concern in Scottish Labour ranks that the same rules do not apply north of the border. That's been sufficient to ensure that Murphy won't enjoy a coronation.

The vagaries of the barking mad electoral college system make it extremely difficult to predict whether this will be a walkover for Murphy, or a very close election. The unions are clearly determined to stop him, and have successfully coalesced behind a preferred alternative candidate in the shape of Neil Findlay. The problem they have, though, is that rank-and-file union members will determine how the union vote breaks, and many of them won't even have heard of Findlay.

Murphy's a much more capable politician than Lamont, but he's scarcely another Gordon Brown or John Smith in the making.

Much will hinge, then, on whether union bosses can cajole their members into voting for a relative unknown in the same way that they managed with a certain Ed Miliband four years ago. There certainly shouldn't be any problem persuading them to give their second preference vote to Sarah Boyack - she may be a nobody as far as the London media are concerned, but she "came in with the bricks" at Holyrood and thus is a reasonably familiar face for most politically aware people in Scotland.

It's conceivable that the parliamentary section of the electoral college will be split down the middle, with MPs mostly backing Murphy and MSPs voting for one of their own. It doesn't really matter if MSPs are divided between Boyack and Findlay, as long as they give their second preferences to the other "stop Murphy" candidate. On the face of it, then, this is an election that Murphy could lose - it just depends on whether the lure of his stardust is as irresistible as it's cracked up to be.

Watching all of this from the sidelines with interest and no small degree of amusement is the SNP. There's a theory that Murphy is the man they "fear", but it has to be said that's mostly put around by the true believers in his legend. My own sense is that the SNP would be very happy with a Murphy win, not least because of their belief that his hectoring tone during the referendum campaign played a part in driving traditional Labour voters to the Yes camp. They also haven't forgotten the intense ridicule he suffered after the "eggpocalypse" incident, when he reacted to being hit by an egg as if it had caused a life-threatening injury.

Although it's fair to say that the SNP would be facing a tougher opponent than Lamont, the manner of her departure and the way in which it undermined Murphy's legitimacy before he even put himself forward means that this election could well be remembered as yet another staging-post on the way to the SNP replacing Labour as Scotland's natural party of preference.

Right on cue comes an astonishing poll putting the SNP 29% ahead of Labour in Westminster intentions – and it was mostly conducted after the public became aware that Murphy was the frontrunner. It's getting to the point where all Nicola Sturgeon has to do is sit back and watch her opponents implode.

James Kelly is author of Scottish pro-independence blog SCOT goes POP! Voted one of the UK's top political bloggers, you can hear more from Kelly on Twitter @JamesKelly.