Eddie Barnes: New leaders of the Scottish Labour and Tory parties face a daunting challenge in the coming year

RUTH Davidson and Johann Lamont may come from different sides of the political fence, but as they prepare to get back to work this week and next, the new leaders of the Scottish Tory and Labour parties have what appears to be a very similar job in hand.

In 2012, both women are tasked with breathing life into the hollowed-out husks of parties which have been passed on to them.

In the blue corner, Miss Davidson has already made a start. While most attention naturally has focused on her two-minute slot during First Minister’s Questions, she has begun more like a management trouble-shooter since taking over the job in November. A major recruitment campaign has already begun, with members being asked to ensure they get others signed up. She has also unveiled moves to try and hand a greater policy-making role to party members in the hope of restoring grass-roots activism.

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One of the unpalatable truths about the Conservative leadership race was that, despite attracting a huge amount of media coverage, a significant chunk of the Conservative membership still didn’t even bother to vote. It is not just hostility to the Conservatives that Miss Davidson has to fear; it is also apathy.

Over at the Labour party, after a week and a half in charge, Johann Lamont confronts a similar mess. Political parties are movements or they are nothing – and by the time her party lost in May, it had lost all direction. Assisted by her new deputy Anas Sarwar, the party somehow has to convince not just others, but also itself, that it has a reason to carry on.

The pair are looking both internally and externally. Internally, Ed Miliband and the Labour party’s UK general secretary, Iain McNicol, have told the new team that they are now fully in charge. Their only involvement will be to help out if required should Mrs Lamont face resistance. A major re-wiring of the party is being planned. Like others before her, Mrs Lamont has also vowed to try and get the party’s many warring factions to work together.

Externally, the new top team know they have to reconnect with Scotland fast. They now realise just how well the SNP has used power to embed itself in public life (exemplified by one anecdote from a secretary in a local government chief’s office. Three months after the SNP won in 2007, she noted she had seen John Swinney more times already than his Labour predecessor in four years). And having reconnected, Mrs Lamont will need to show she knows where she’s going – not least on the constitution.

It is a heady challenge for both women – but also an opportunity. Both were elected with a new mandate from their parties. And now that everyone knows that the mantra of one-more-heave is a fool’s errand for them both, they are in a uniquely strong position to overhaul things as they see fit. 2012 will tell us whether both women have the leadership and the vision to seize the opportunity they have been given.