THE Scottish Labour Party are the only infantry battalion in world history which knows only one formation. Whether the polls go up or the polls go down – whether their MPs are returned to parliament or return home unelected – come rain, come shine, come triumph and disaster, Scottish Labour’s commissars always believe one more circular firing squad is just what’s needed.

This week in Scottish politics has made me come over all nostalgic. This seems appropriate. With his wholesome patter about warm winter coats and public ownership, Richard Leonard is a nostalgic kind of politician. But his desperately unseemly eviction of Jackie Baillie and Anas Sarwar from Labour’s front bench this week is a call back to the gory, glory days of Scottish Labour infighting. Given two backs to stab, the People’s Party always itches to give their party colleague the first knife.

Scottish Labour is populated by the kind of people who would squabble about the composition of their spaceship’s Rules and Disputes Committee with the entrails of a fallen comrade dangling from a ventilation shaft and the ichory aftermath of an atomised scientific officer painting the shuttle bay scarlet.

Bitter personal debates about who gets to be the new Warrant Officer would knock the stalking terror of Xenomorph XX121 into “any other competent business”. The overall effect would be similar to Holyrood this week: mood lighting, facehugger politics and bloodcurdling cries of alarm.

For those of you who remember the prawn cocktail days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, it can be tempting to see the party’s many feuds and ructions as a symptom of personality politics.

In any workplace, after all, some folk won’t get on. People will rub each other up the wrong way. Egos are like bouncing bombs. Ambitions will clash. But to believe Scottish Labour have just been unlucky with its personnel over the last decades tortures credulity.

Factionalism is Scottish Labour’s blood borne virus, spread by contact with composite motions, the unironic use of the word “solidarity” in informal conversations and pre-occupation by NEC composition.

If you have any of these symptoms, please report to your local branch for induction into your faction and instructions about who you are expected to denounce, deselect or otherwise destroy through covert press briefings and the cunning manipulation of internal democracy. Because for the average Scottish Labour plotter, the country’s problems are the party’s problems. Get the party right, and the country will follow. Change yourself, and you change the whole world. That’s how the logic goes.

As an outsider not entirely in sympathy with Scottish Labour’s aims, watching the fallout from this political philosophy is extremely entertaining. But as political analysis goes, it is woefully self-involved. Scottish Labour still – still – seem to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing since 2007.

Given no indication most Scottish people are inclined even to give them a hearing, here they are, taking flensing knives to one another over trifles. This devotion to internal factionalism might once have had a powerful Darwinian quality. First past the post – by dramatically inflating the party’s victories and excluding their opponents from elected office – ensured that for many decades in Scotland, the real debates on place, patronage and power became internal party matters. It privatised debates about access to public resources.

In their pomp, Labour’s Hunger Games may have supported the survival of the fittest, creating haunted survivors with minds like steel traps and the paranoid, calculating sensibility of people who’ve spent their whole lives mistrusting those closest to them. But the smouldering wreck of the once all-conquering Labour machine remains more to be pitied than despised. In its modern incarnation, you’re struck only by its paltriness and self-delusion, its desperate self-importance and the astonishing irrelevance of the party’s internal battles which is lost on nobody, save the Labour Party themselves.

When Richard Leonard told Labour’s conference two weeks ago that “I intend to be next First Minister”, the smart take was that no-hoper politicians need to engage in this kind of pretence for the look of the thing.

After all, if you aren’t prepared to take yourself seriously as a candidate to be First Minister, why should the punters? Richard Leonard knows he won’t be First Minister, we know he won’t be, and he knows we know it.

But after this week’s bloodletting, I’m not so sure that crediting Scottish Labour politicians with clear-sighted realism about their own prospects isn’t giving them too much credit. Learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.

In July this year, Survation asked the punters whether they had a favourable or unfavourable view of a range of UK and Scottish political figures. The good news for Richard Leonard is that a mighty 9.2% of Scots had a positive view of the Labour leader. Around a quarter had a negative or strongly negative read on his performance, and 29% couldn’t stir themselves from apathy one way or the other. But streaking way out ahead were the 36% who responded to Survation’s pollsters with “Richard Leonard who?”

To put these figures in a little context, just 3% of Survation’s panel couldn’t pick out Nicola Sturgeon from the line up, and 7% couldn’t stick a name to her Tory counterpart, Ruth Davidson. For Richard Leonard and his leadership of the Labour Party, the response remains a very modest “meh”.

In the Scotsman on Friday, without a speck of irony, the old school Scottish Labour minister Hugh Henry argued that his colleagues in Holyrood need to realise Leonard’s election was not a “temporary blip” that can be ignored but part of a major shift in “Western democracy”. Without wishing to be gratuitously unkind to the embattled Labour man, you might well think this characterisation of the world historical dimensions of Leonard’s sweeping anonymously into the leadership of Scotland’s third party is just a little grand.

Leonard’s personal appeal remains a problem. If “stamping his authority on the party” is to be the spin, when you announce your reshuffle, you really ought to try to look and sound a little less like an apologetic undertaker who has run out of formaldehyde.

Admittedly, the Labour leader’s chief press handler – Charlie Mann, formerly Vladimir Romanov’s PR guru – had gone AWOL just hours before, declaring that the Scottish Labour gig was “not for him” after a bruising six months in the job.

But Leonard allowed himself to be cornered by the TV cameras in the gothic lighting of the Scottish Parliament’s atrium after hours. His brief and sweaty broadcast recalled a student production of Young Frankenstein.

If, as Leonard’s internal cheerleaders insisted, this week’s Labour reshuffle represented the deft and timely execution of his internal opponents, Leonard didn’t sound like a man who expected to appear on telly that night, never mind one who was enjoying crushing his enemies, seeing them driven before him and hearing the lamentation of their women.

Indeed, most of the women lamenting Richard Leonard’s reshuffle were lamenting his decision to reappoint Alex Rowley as the party’s local government spokesman. Leonard seemed surprised – or at least unprepared – for the obvious media questions about restoring the party career of a man accused of stalking and harassment by a former partner. If this was a calculated hit on Sarwar and Baillie, Leonard did his best to make it look spontaneous, homespun and unprepared. Even when it comes to circular firing squads, it seems, Scottish Labour have learned nothing, and forgiven nothing.