GOING by the visits he made to the city, Harry Houdini had a soft spot for Glasgow. One would like to think there was a natural connection between a performer who made a name for himself escaping perilous situations against ridiculous odds and a city that has made bouncing back its unofficial Olympic sport.

Back then, it took escaping from milk cans and packing crates to raise a roar from a Glasgow crowd. Today, the same effect can be generated by holding up a packet of Strepsils. Nice work if you can get it, and Nicola Sturgeon certainly showed how in her speech to the SNP conference this week.

It was a gentle dig at Theresa May’s 65-minute throat clearing masquerading as a speech. But it was enough to make a jolly picture, one featuring Ms Sturgeon grinning over a sign (firmly stuck on) that said “progress”. Smiley, happy, busy people, that’s the Scottish Government for you, or at least that is the message the picture was meant to convey.

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Two clear winners have emerged from this party conference season, and the other one is called Jeremy. Both Mr Corbyn and Ms Sturgeon succeeded by pulling the oldest trick in the political book: pretending that bad stuff did not happen. Labour agreed amongst themselves that they had won a moral victory in the General Election, while the SNP decided that the loss of 21 MPs hardly mattered because there were so many of them to start with. Ms Sturgeon, having secured the most votes in Scotland and the most MPs, concluded she was free from censure and spoke accordingly. It was the natural thing to do. It was the easy thing. But was it wise?

Cute as the gag was, her speech will not be remembered for the holding aloft of a packet of lozenges. I hope it will go down as the moment when Scotland could start to dream of a future that was not swaddled in jumpers from October to June. Joking aside, creating a publicly-owned, not for profit firm to take on the Big Six and deliver cheaper energy is a genuinely bright idea. It is not a new one, and experience elsewhere (Nottingham’s Robin Hood Energy, for example) shows it takes far more than a flick of a switch to succeed, but if implemented it could change many lives for the better.

Then there is the other thing for which Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow speech may be remembered. Unlike the energy announcement, this one did not sit so well. Over the last decade, said Ms Sturgeon, her party had led the way and should be proud of what they had achieved. “Our focus now,” she went on, “is on the next 10 years and beyond”.

That assumption of 10 more years in government ought to trouble far more people than it delights. Now, Ms Sturgeon is not the first politician to set up camp on the sunlit uplands. The view from there is always so much nicer. But it is rare for a leader to be so sure of themselves that they feel able to stake a claim so far into the future, not least because such self-confidence can generate no end of problems, beginning with a look at the past.

If past performance is a guide to future success then those next 10 years are hardly going to be packed with achievements. Not that one would think so on reading Ms Sturgeon’s welcome to the conference. The reforms it highlighted, abolition of prescription charges and tuition fees chief among them, are now so old they are heading for big school. Speaking of which, the one area where the party could have brought about the kind of generational change it seeks, education, has been the scene of its greatest failure. Why no apology for that in Glasgow this week? Or for the chronic inability to hit waiting time targets for medical treatment?

That is the trouble with being the only competent political show in town: outside of an election there is no-one around to bring up such inconvenient truths. Ah, but there are always the opposition parties, are there not? Which brings us to the second reason to be concerned about Ms Sturgeon’s ten more years pledge: given there is no credible alternative, another decade in power could be all too easy for the SNP to achieve. However one votes, that should concern all democrats. The blame for this lies squarely with the opposition. If one can judge the health of a democracy by the standard of opposition then Scotland needs to see a doctor, quick.

Hearing Ms Sturgeon talk of the next 10 years, one could not help but be reminded of another woman politician. It was not, despite the SNP leader’s determination to go on and on, Mrs Thatcher. It was Angela Merkel. Some 17 years as party leader and 12 as Chancellor of Germany, she makes Ms Sturgeon, with her three years as leader, look like a kindergartener on the nursery slopes of power. Moreover, governing a country of 83 million, and steering the EU, are jobs of a different order than leading Scotland. Even so, the Merkel phenomenon is one any leader who wants to stick around for the long term should heed.

Many and varied are the reasons for Mrs Merkel’s continued success, but her appetite for managerialism and her ability to maintain prosperity, have been crucial. She has made two truly radical moves, throwing open the doors to refugees, and pulling the plug on nuclear power. She was able to do so precisely because she had built up so much credit with the electorate. They watched for years as she dedicated herself to the often dull work of improving people’s everyday lives. When the time came to spend that credit, it was there.

Scotland’s First Minister has a note of her own, for another referendum on independence, that she has promised to honour. Some in the party would have her do this as soon as possible. If conference had not been so caught up with Catalonia, those demands to act would have been even louder. What of next year, and the year after?

Ms Sturgeon might assume she has the luxury of taking the long view. She may even be looking forward to the peace and quiet of managerialism. Good luck with that while it lasts. Keeping the electorate happy will be tough enough; doing so while increasing taxes and escaping the expectations of her party could be a stretch too far.