EVEN after many years of it, the ignorance of England’s political elite on Scottish matters never fails to astonish. Much of it is underpinned by arrogance. Most reasonable people might be expected to deploy a degree of caution when making observations about a place of which they know little and have visited even less. You might at least have expected them to have conducted some research before opening their mouths.

There were no signs of either research or caution when Labour leadership candidate Emily Thornberry addressed a party meeting in Nottingham at the weekend. “I hate the SNP,” she told her cheering audience. “I hate the SNP. I think they’re Tories wrapped up in nationalist clothing. I think they pretend to be on the left, but they’re not on the left.”

Let’s leave aside the faintly disturbing image of a senior politician gleefully expressing hatred of fellow politicians. At the end of last year her party were at the forefront of calls for political engagement to become kinder and less malevolent. The murder of her party colleague Jo Cox was cited often by members from all sides as the Brexit debate turned ugly.

Thornberry has always struck me as a reasonable and polished performer in public and in a television studio, so I don’t really know where this is coming from. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was merely playing to the gallery. Perhaps she meant that she hated the idea of separation and independence.

She can’t really honestly believe either that the SNP are “Tories wrapped up in nationalist clothing”. It can’t have escaped her attention that Labour in Scotland have been reduced to an end-of-the-pier act.

A little more digging would reveal that one of the main reasons why Labour voters have absconded from the party is because they were the ones perceived to be too close to the Tories.

But when one of the other leadership contenders, Jess Phillips, decides to employ the director of Better Together to run her campaign, then such ignorance becomes a little easier to understand. That campaign was perhaps one of the worst in recent political history. To ship nearly 20 percentage points to your opponents in little more than a year and cause the UK political and media elites to descend on Glasgow in a mass outbreak of panic takes some doing. That in so doing you helped bring about the almost total destruction of Labour in Scotland for a generation makes you the Gerald Ratner of UK politics.

Yet another of Thornberry’s fellow candidates, Lisa Nandy, said the UK should “look to Catalonia” for lessons on how to deal with Scottish nationalism. I’ve looked at this exchange from all angles, seeking to give her the benefit of the doubt also. I can only think that it was a rabbit-in-the-headlights moment when being asked about a country – Scotland – she plainly knew nothing about.

Last year both Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell seemed to wind back from outright opposition to a second referendum on independence by stating that they wouldn’t be opposed but that this shouldn’t happen in the early years of a Labour administration at Westminster. So we can have a referendum but only when we’re tellt.”

In some ways this was more condescending than the Tories’ eternal opposition. I can even stomach Jacob Rees-Mogg’s staunch Unionism when set against such a patronising attitude. At least he’s had the experience of campaigning to be the Tory member for a working-class area of Fife. The current incumbent for North East Somerset has probably met more ordinary Scottish people than the entire list of Labour leadership contenders.

The main parties of the Union have sought to convince us that Scotland is a great and valued component of the United Kingdom, equal in importance to England. Within hours of the independence referendum though, the Tory hard right were using it to disseminate their wretched ideas of British nationalism in their much more important goal of leaving the EU.

Labour strategists in Scotland, if you can credit them with even having a strategy at all, failed to see this and chose instead to wrap themselves so tightly in the Union Jack that by the end of that campaign they were all crying God for Harry, England and St George.

The long shadow cast by the sight of Labour activists drinking champagne with Tories on the night of September 18 has stalked Labour in Scotland ever since. The Tories, far more clever and cunning, saw an opportunity to weaponise the cultural and religious faultlines of Scotland to their advantage. Six years later an extreme right-wing cult now runs Britain and Labour in Scotland need snookers. It is frankly astonishing that, with regards to Scotland, they are still mouthing the same, shrill notes of Tory arch-Unionists.

Once, with some justification, they might have been able to argue that to relax even slightly their outright opposition to independence might risk playing into the Tories’ hands. That ship sailed long ago, however, and they have since been left looking like a drunk man trying to exit a revolving door.

Their ignorance of Scotland is quite stunning and they have learned nothing from the party’s annihilation north of the Border. When they are reliant on Gordon Brown emerging from his keep like King Lear and still talking of nasty and divisive Scottish independence – even after England’s bitter Brexit – you know they have all but lost Scotland.

Interviewed last week by Kevin Schofield, editor of the influential Politics Home website, Labour’s last Scottish MP Ian Murray attempted to make the left-wing case for Unionism. Schofield compared his uncompromising position to the confusion and uncertainty between Richard Leonard and the party executive.

“The episode demonstrated that when it comes to the main issue in Scottish politics,” wrote Schofield, “Labour has nothing to say. Until that changes, the party will continue to tank.”

The problem, though, goes deeper. For more than six years Labour in Scotland have had plenty to say about the constitutional issue. It’s just that they were saying the wrong thing, according to the tens of thousands who have been deserting them ever since. Murray, displaying the insularity and hubris that were the roots of his party’s destruction in Scotland, talked about how he didn’t mention independence once on the doorsteps and this saw him get elected. Aye but what about the other 58, Ian?

Unionism is never a good look for Labour and they should leave the Union Jackery to the Tories. No-one’s asking them suddenly to back independence; just for the opportunity to decide.