EVERY year around this time, our political leaders get themselves psyched up for the political equivalent of the X Factor. Their mission is to deliver a flawless, pitch-perfect speech, without stumbling over a word and with punchlines delivered with immaculate timing. They have to radiate confidence, wear the right colours and smile and frown in all the right places. Any mishaps and your career is over.

Nicola Sturgeon faces the judges tomorrow. No doubt her performance will be slick and professional. The bouncers no doubt will be primed to intercept any would-be pranksters, and the stage managers will invest in strong glue and heavy-duty screws. The First Minister’s adviser may also be trying keep her out of the road of germs.

Last week, Theresa May committed a few cardinal sins during her leader’s speech. She coughed and spluttered. Her set fell apart. She received her P45 from a comedy infiltrator. And she even managed to upset Tory traditionalists by sporting a bracelet depicting images of the Mexican Marxist artist Frida Kahlo.

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As a result, her coat is on an even shooglier nail than the ones that were supposed to hold in place the words “A country that works for everyone”. For most of the media, her failure to deliver a top-notch performance at the podium has sealed her fate. Even the expressions of support from potential successors – notably Boris Johnson and Ruth Davison – sound like the ritual declarations of confidence that football club boards issue just before they sack their managers.

Theresa May deserves a real P45. Not because of her awkwardness on the public stage, but because of the damage and destruction to people’s lives over which she has presided.

Eighteen people die every day under her watch after being declared “fit for work” and denied Employment and Support Allowance. Hundreds of child refugees fleeing violent war zones that May would never dare set foot in are being locked out of the UK and sent back to face the bombs and the bullets by this Prime Minister and her government. Thousands of children in the UK have been condemned to hunger by the Tory decision to remove child benefit from larger families.

I remember former Labour leader Michael Foot – a principled and erudite politician – being derided by the tabloid press as “Worzel Gummidge” because he wore a duffel coat in public and tended to let his hair grow a bit longer than was fashionable.

New Labour then brought us slick and smooth Tony Blair, who heralded the advent of spin over substance. “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it” became the guiding motto of British political life.

Blair was elected in 1997 on the back of a 78 per cent turnout. But by 2001 it had plummeted 18 percentage points. The rot had set in. There was no longer a battle of ideas between left and right. Marketing became elevated above policy, and the big UK political parties became bogged down in the soggy middle ground.

Instead of bravely arguing for principles, the strategy of the political marketeers was to pander to people’s prejudices. Instead of challenging the media moguls, they set out to appease them. Politics became sanitised and pragmatism reigned supreme. Inspiration was a dirty word. The spin doctors were the kings of the political jungle.

In Blair’s Labour Party, armies of advisers took the real political passion of political activists and put it through the washer and umpteen spin cycles – leaving ideas, principles and values washed out, grey and threadbare.

That was the environment in which the first Labour-LibDem coalition in the Scottish Parliament operated. The excitement of devolution was soon dampened by managerialism.

And that was how it was until the SNP got the numbers to drive forward the 2014 independence referendum. The notion that people didn’t care about politics was torn asunder. The independence movement set the trend for ideas again. At UK level, Jeremy Corbyn became the main beneficiary of this political revolution. Like Michael Foot, Corbyn was a spin doctor’s worst nightmare – a grey-haired, bearded 67-year-old who wore woolly jumpers, crumpled suits and anoraks. Like him or loathe him, his popularity among young people in England has been a triumph of substance over style.

When I think of the ideas that sprouted during the referendum, I find myself scratching my head as to why, in Scotland, we suddenly seem to be in the grip of another famine.

On the positive side, this week’s SNP conference has five-and-a-half hours of its party conference devoted to policy resolutions from the membership. And the decision to ban fracking will buoy up many of the party’s activists – and possibly pre-empt any grassroots rebellion among the party’s famously loyal membership.

But otherwise the conference agenda looks like the party has decided to play it safe. Some may well argue that’s a sensible stand to take after the setback of June’s General Election. I’d have to respectfully disagree. To reignite the flame that brought us to the edge of independence in September 2014, we need boldness and radicalism.

So, I will be keenly listening to Nicola Sturgeon’s speech on Tuesday. I don’t care about what she’ll be wearing. I don’t care if the set falls down. I don’t care if she coughs and splutters her way through it. It’s the substance I’m interested in.