AS I write this, the long knives are being sharpened for Kezia Dugdale – and her enemies are not the SNP, the Tories or even the Corbynite left of the Labour Party.

From where I’m standing it looks as though it’s her old centrist allies who are baying most loudly for her blood following the news that she’ll be heading off to the Australian jungle to participate in I’m A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!

Kezia’s decision may have been ill-judged – not least because it has given those who long ruled the roost within Scottish Labour an opportunity to extract revenge. Her real crime in their eyes, I suspect, is that she stood down from her post and opened the door for a pro-Corbyn leader to step in.

In the wake of Richard Leonard’s victory, we heard from both sides the customary assurances that all is now sweetness and light.

But just a few days ago, party insiders complained that the bitterness and division generated by the contest was as rancorous as the 2014 independence referendum, so it’s hard to imagine party members will now join together in a great big huddle of unity.

Faced with the fact that all but a handful of MSPs backed his rival Anas Sarwar, Richard Leonard may be inclined to try and win wider support by turning up the volume against the party’s most hated enemy of recent years, the SNP. He’d be making a serious mistake – much more serious than two weeks in front of TV cameras in the jungle.

For all it’s worth, I’d offer this advice to Richard Leonard: turn your fire instead on your natural enemy.

For centuries, and right up until the present day, the Tory Party has been the party of the business and landowning elites. It is the party that has in recent decades turned once-vibrant communities into depressed post-industrial deserts. It is the party that shackled trade unions and helped drive down real wages. It is the party that has economic inequality imprinted on its DNA. It is the party of the tax avoiders.

The Tories may not be in power at Holyrood, but the Tory economic ideology of shifting wealth and resources from our public services to the private bank accounts of the rich is the root of the biggest problems afflicting Scotland’s NHS, education system and local authorities.

Outside the Labour bubble, most people whose politics are on the left don’t see the SNP as a bunch of tartan Tories. They see them as party that have brought in progressive reforms, from free prescription charges and abolition of tuition fees to land reform and scrapping the sell-off of council houses, while doing its best to defend Scotland’s public services from Westminster-driven austerity.

I SAY to Leonard: by all means criticise the Scottish Government, but if Scottish Labour continue to vie with the Tories to be the most rabid anti-independence party, then sooner or later you will meet the same fate as your recent predecessors. Scotland needs constructive politics not petty, tedious, party-political point-scoring.

I’d also offer advice to the independence movement itself, of which I’m just a small cog in a great big machine. There have been sweeping political changes since 2015 — most of which have been a by-product of the excitement of the 2014 referendum and the subsequent upsurge of the SNP. Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard are where they are today because of the earth-shattering changes in the political psychology of Britain brought by the Scottish independence movement.

But we cannot now just continue as though nothing has changed. Labour in 2012-2014, controlled from top to bottom by the Blairite ideologues, was a different beast to that which we are facing today. Young people who three years ago despised Scottish Labour from the bottom of their hearts now see it as potentially a party of hope.

Based on anecdotal evidence from personal acquaintances, my impression is that there are now many more Labour Party members, both in Scotland and in England, who are sympathetic or at least sanguine towards independence.

In contrast to the Tories, Unionism is not in Labour’s bloodstream. And the independence movement should now, in my opinion, find ways of engaging respectfully with Scottish Labour Party members and voters.

And that could start at the top. During the General Election campaign earlier this year there was a lot of talk about a progressive alliance at Westminster, built around Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. Instead, we ended up with a right-wing alliance of the Tories and DUP

But changes in Scottish Labour mean there is now an opening to resurrect that idea in Scotland, not in the unrealistic form of a formal pact but informally, for the purpose of overcoming specific challenges.

The Scottish Government could work with Scottish Labour and the Scottish Greens, for example, to draw up a watertight scheme for public ownership of the railways. And to achieve the new targets agreed on child poverty. And on a plan to provide affordable social housing for young people. And to tackle some of the most intractable problems within the NHS.

In other words, to start to break apart the current Unionist alliance that is pitted against the Scottish Government by forging a progressive social alliance on many key issues that would leave the Tories isolated in Holyrood and in wider society.

It wouldn’t turn Labour into a pro-independence party but it could, perhaps, change the psychology of Labour activists and voters by making them feel that the real enemy is not the Scottish Government, but the Tories in Westminster and Holyrood.

And if that approach is taken down to local grassroots level, with independence activists encouraged to step outside the comfort zones of Yes meetings to become more involved in local issues, working with others across political divides on issues of common cause, then perhaps we can start break down more barriers and make it easier to win a clear victory whenever there is a future referendum.

I understand why some people in the independence movement would be sceptical. They point justifiably to Labour’s record in power. But things have moved on, and will remain in a state of flux for years to come. So, instead of treating Leonard as a threat, I hope the independence movement will see his election as an opportunity to help change the political dynamic in Scotland – and in the process, strengthen and broaden the independence cause.