Ed Miliband. Picture: Christian Guthier
During the height of the 1999 Scottish election campaign, Donald Dewar was under pressure over persistent rumours that he wasn’t really running the campaign, the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was.
Dewar denied it and the story faded away until a group of hacks bumped into a young man coming out of Labour’s Glasgow headquarters one evening.
“Hi, I’m Ed Miliband, I work for Gordon Brown,” he said and that was that. From then on, the Labour campaign was characterised in the press as the “London-Labour” or “Brown-controlled” campaign.
The younger Miliband has clearly learned a great deal from that episode. Last weekend he came to Scotland and promised more autonomy for the Scottish Labour Party. London Labour should adopt a “hand’s off” approach to Scotland and let the Scottish party run its own affairs.
For the person who was ostensibly sent north to help run the 1999 campaign, that was some move.
It has also helped explain why the Ed Miliband bandwagon is gathering momentum in Scotland, particularly among the MSPs.
Some MSPs, like David Whitton, remember Ed Miliband from 1999 and were so impressed with his work, his analysis and his approach to politics from then that they are keen supporters of him to this day.
Others have seen how he has changed and adapted and taken on board the lessons he learned from his Scottish experience 11 years ago and is now clearly aware of the different dynamics in Scotland.
But there is another, far more fundamental, reason why Ed Miliband is edging ahead of his rivals in Scotland: he speaks the right language, the Labour language.
John Park, seen by many as a future leader of the Scottish Labour Party, is another Ed Miliband supporter and he believes Ed Miliband’s willingness to speak out strongly in more Old Labour terms is striking a chord with many in Scottish Labour.
Most Labour MSPs are still keeping their voting intentions to themselves but, of the dozen or so who are willing to declare their favoured candidate, seven support Ed Miliband with four backing his brother David and two supporting Andy Burnham. At the last count, there were none prepared to publicly support either Diane Abbott or Ed Balls.
Part of this strong support for Ed MIliband comes from his slightly “Old Labour” credentials. He is not defiantly Left-wing, like Ms Abbott, nor is he stridently union-backed, like Mr Balls. Ed Miliband is seen as a traditional, solid Labour politician of the sort Scots like.
There is more to it, too, though. The Blairite-Brownite axis still cuts through the Labour Party despite the departure of its eponymous leaders. As a result, David Miliband is seen by many as the Blairite candidate and Mr Balls as the Brownite candidate – something which is not helped by the Charlie Whelan/Unite backing Mr Balls is expected to receive.
Ed Miliband is not viewed through this filter at all so comes across as fresh and untarnished.
The one problem for Ed Miliband was his performance at the Scottish hustings event last Sunday. Even his supporters admit that he appeared hesitant, slightly uneasy and not as confident as his rivals. And with many Labour members in Scotland – and MSPs – still undecided, that cannot have helped.
There is, though, a tale his supporters are keen to relate which comes from the problematic Copenhagen climate change conference last year. It was 2am in the morning and the whole conference was on the verge of meltdown. All the NGOs and environmental groups were about to walk out. Somebody roused Ed Miliband from his bed. He spoke to the groups concerned and such was his passion, eloquence and commitment, they all stayed and got involved again. The conference may not have resulted in the sort-of landmark deal they wanted, but Ed Miliband’s supporters use that example to show that their man does have the leadership and debating skills necessary – even if he does not show them as readily as his brother.
He also has two other, important, factors in his favour. The first is that there is still a long way to go before the election itself.
One senior figure in Scottish Labour admitted that there was now a “caucus” on the Labour corridor at Holyrood actively pushing Ed Miliband’s chances. Even those who want Mr Burnham to succeed admit quietly they may now back Ed Miliband to prevent his brother getting the leadership.
This form of politics, building a caucus that works behind the scenes to persuade, cajole and generate support, is the sort of politics Labour members are used to but the one now growing in support of the younger Miliband is stronger, more influential and better organised than any other, particularly that for David Miliband – despite his high-profile visit to the parliament last week.
A long run-in to the leadership election will work in Ed Miliband’s favour because he supporters will use that time to build a body of backers inside the Scottish Parliament and beyond.
The second factor is the complexity of the Labour leadership contest itself. The use of single transferable vote to decide the outcome makes it more likely that the eventual winner will come from the middle of the pack.
The system has only been used twice before and only on one of these occasions was it used for the sort of widely spread field we have now, and that was the Deputy Leadership election in 2007.
Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson were in second and third place after the first round and Ms Harman never got higher than second place – until after the final allocation of the last set of transferable votes, when she emerged on top.
This means that huge importance will be placed on the ability of candidates to secure second choice support from Labour members. The Ed Miliband camp will hope to pick up second choice votes from both David Miliband and Mr Balls so that, even if their man comes third in the first round, he might be able to edge ahead because of the transfers.
There is also the Abbott factor to consider. David Miliband’s decision to give her the vital nomination allowing her to enter the contest is being widely seen as astute, because it was expected to rob his nearest rivals of vital left-wing support.
But David Miliband could end up suffering too. There may be many Labour Party members out there – particularly women, members of ethnic minorities and members who still harbour a desire for radicalism – who would have backed David Miliband as their second choice but who will now give their second-choice vote to Ms Abbott.
The only certainty at this stage is that this leadership election will come down to second and third preferences. The winning candidate will need enough first-choice votes to get a solid start then more second and third choices than their rivals.
To do that, the winning candidate has to be able to secure widespread support across the party and not alienate anybody. If you listen to Ed Miliband’s supporters at Holyrood, they certainly believe their man has both of these qualities. It will be a fascinating race.