The ballots for the protracted Labour leadership race closed this lunchtime, and the LOLITSP will be succeeded on Saturday by a Leader of Scottish Labour, in title at least.

The extent to which the new bod will get to lead does remain doubtful, though. Many of the more unreconstructed Scottish Labour MPs resented Holyrood’s very existence and still resent their own MSPs.

Even if they elect one of their own, as Jeff pointed out, will they be ruled? And will Ed Miliband really let the Scottish wing run policies that differ from his? And if the answer to both of those is yes, is there not a risk that Scottish Labour MPs would have to go into different lobbies?

As usual, with devolution, if you do things exactly the same afterwards, it’s hard to discern the point.

The additional problem revealed by the contest is that it has failed to excite even as much as that for the Scottish Tory leadership, not least because Murdo offered a relatively Big Idea. Labour remain the largest opposition party at Holyrood by a mile, yet they have managed to work themselves into a position where few people are interested in what they say.

Can a new leader turn this around? It seems unlikely, at least until Labour are prepared to fix their policy and message problems, until they’re ready to say “whatever the constitutional arrangements, these are our principles and our vision for Scottish society”, and until they realise that banging on about “separatism” or “secession” isn’t winning any hearts. But however much deeper the problem is than leadership, it remains the case that not all candidates are created equal.

Unlike Jeff, Tom Harris would get my third preference (or third preferences, were I one of those Labour members who gets endless votes for being a member of the Fabians or the Socialist Crossword Puzzle Compilers or whatever). Tom is genuinely open to debate, even if his style has too much of the internet troll about it. Last year he and I bickered about Labour’s asylum policies on Twitter, and he agreed to swap guest posts with me, which impressed me even if the content didn’t. I’m looking forward one day to a long-planned pint with him, if he forgives me for this post. But he’s a flawed candidate, and the one most likely to secure an SNP victory in 2016. He’s absurdly right-wing even by Blairite standards, prepared to lambast young mothers in the most extraordinary tones, and he’s a loose cannon. Anyone who compares the debate over Scotland’s constitutional debate to the American Civil War will give good gaffe during an election.

Johann Lamont comes next (spoilers!). She’s a dour pair of hands, another point-and-shout anti-nationalist, another exponent of the botched and timid form of social democracy undemocratically loved by the unions’ leaderships – the same union leaderships who back the ultimate dinosaur for the deputy leadership, Ian Davidson. As Kate points out, she’s also part of the authoritarian wing of Scottish Labour, the people who thought “You’ll get stabbed” was a good core message to take to a fight with the Great Puddin’, a suitable response to his empty populism and misleading talk-left-act-right politics. It’s hard to see Tom Harris becoming an MSP, something quite important for a contender for First Minister, but Lamont’s own seat is shoogly to say the least, and even if she holds it next time round she’s almost as non-credible candidate for the top job as Harris.

So yes, I’d be backing Ken Macintosh (pictured above with an unsuitable prop for #FMQ). I first tipped him in 2008, and he’s still the best candidate. On policy he’s tacked pretty hard in both directions – right, with a (now deleted from the Scotsman) plan to cut taxes, and left, with suggestions of bringing Scotrail back into public ownership – which is admittedly a bit alarming. He’s warm and personable, though, and if you squint really hard you can see him on the steps of Bute House. Or it doesn’t seem totally insane to game scenarios where that happens. He’d need to start honing better messages on independence (personally I think neutrality on it is the only plausible position for Labour eventually – focus on bread and butter issues no matter what the settlement, as above), and he’d need to step out of the angry finger-wagging mode that even he has deployed. It’s not him, and it’s not going to work. He’s also, in his own seat, a genuine winner, much as being up against the Tories is anyone else’s ideal first-past-the-post situation.

That’s a recommendation, mind, in lieu of an actual Labour left candidate, someone who could step into the yawning space to the left of this fiscally centre-right administration. It’s also a recommendation not because I want a Labour First Minister, although as a Green I would rather have a credible Labour and a credible SNP to choose from on the first vote. I really wanted John Park to stand, but he’s unfairly copping the flack for the 2011 campaign, despite the ground game (his role) being robust. It’s unfair not least because of Lamont’s key role. Parky’s normal, he’s funny, he’s organised, he picks good issues, he connects with the unions without being owned by them.

As the Iain Gray situation and the Ed Miliband situation both show, though, something has been happening to people when they take on leadership roles in Labour. They lose their fluency, they become both shoutier and more timid, and they lead like they’re following the advice of some particularly inept focus group jockey or some ex-NUS children of the Labour cocoon. All but the most blinkered Nats would accept that Iain Gray has at least partly rediscovered his voice since losing the election, and I bet some on their benches are wishing they could keep him on now, now he’s free of those shackles. Whoever wins will need to be different, though, they’ll need to be authentic, or at least fake it, as the old joke goes. And even then, if Salmond can secure his devo-max wish, who would bet on Labour to win in 2016? If I were a Labour partisan I’d pick Ken, even though I think the task is beyond him.

Quick declaration of interest: I’ll be about £150 up at the bookies if Ken wins. Although I’d have been about £500 up if Parky had gone for it. Next time mate?