ALMOST eight years have come and gone since I first observed how vindictive the Labour Party in Scotland could be to those of its members who favoured an independent Scotland.

Before the referendum I encountered one of the organisers of Labour for Independence and could scarcely believe what he was telling me. This chap, who had been a loyal Labour Party activist for almost his entire adult life now found himself reviled for expressing support for self-determination.

He hadn’t arrived at this decision following months of inner turmoil and long, dark nights of the soul. He simply believed Scotland had to diverge from the increasingly shrill and reactionary political atmosphere enveloping Westminster politics.

He was and always would be a Labour man.

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The leadership of Labour in Scotland had a deep-rooted loathing for the idea of Scottish independence that seemed to be more visceral than their antipathy towards the Tories and all their works.

Anas Sarwar was beginning to make a name for himself within Scottish Labour at the time. It’s indicative of the path the party in Scotland has since chosen that he is now their leader. This despite knowing that his family business refused to recognise trade unions and failed to pay the basic living wage – and that he favoured the elitism of Scotland’s private education sector above the state’s.

Back then, Sarwar was in the vanguard of those targeting Labour For Independence. He dismissed them as a “front” for Scottish nationalism and said many of its members were in fact members of the SNP. Rather than accommodate their preferences, Sarwar elected for the politics of the playground and something more sinister besides.

Similar tactics were deployed by the leadership of Scottish Labour in seeking to intimidate MPs and MSPs who backed Jeremy Corbyn in his leadership campaigns and who subsequently expressed support for a second referendum on independence. One senior Labour parliamentarian told me they’d had clumsy threats from party headquarters that carried the imprimatur of Sarwar and Ian Murray, Labour’s last remaining Scottish MP.

Sarwar’s dismissive attitude to those in his party who simply favour a referendum points to a sense of fear and paranoia. In 2014, some polling indicated that as many as 30% of Labour supporters in Scotland were open to the idea of independence. It’s since been assumed their subsequent migration to the SNP was therefore inevitable.

This analysis, though, is far too simplistic. It fails to acknowledge the sense of betrayal felt by many Scottish Labour supporters when they witnessed the party’s leaders not merely sharing pro-Union platforms with the Tories but exulting in the process.

The glee with which many of them greeted the result of the September 18 vote suggested something else: that the Scottish Labour leadership cared more about preserving an increasingly dysfunctional Union than about campaigning for traditional Labour values. The subsequent election of Sarwar as leader is the personification of this.

In the intervening years, nothing has happened in Scottish Labour that suggests they are serious about addressing their slide into utter irrelevance in Scottish politics. Yesterday’s leaked internal poll showing that one-third of Scottish Labour voters favour a second referendum on independence ought to be a teachable moment for Sarwar.

The revelation elicited this response from Neil Findlay, the former Labour MSP: “Two things from this polling are crystal clear,” he tweeted. “The Scottish Labour leadership have learned nothing since 2014 and are determined to ignore reality. Instead of having a well-developed devo-max position they are fishing in a wee pool of hard Unionism – it is a failed strategy.”

Scottish Labour won’t learn, though, and seem destined to spend eternity wandering aimlessly around the fringes of Scottish politics. It has been reduced merely to a job opportunity scheme for civic chancers to enjoy a few years as political C-listers before securing some dismal sinecure in Scotland’s civic panjandrum sector.

This wretched twilight existence has been epitomised in recent days by the utterances of several senior figures. One of them is the aforementioned Murray, the MP for Edinburgh South. That Labour’s last remaining MP in Scotland represents a neighbourhood which includes Morningside is not merely appropriate, but almost poetic.

Since his election, Murray has done little more than play up to his well-heeled audience. And never more so than last week when he wrote to Boris Johnson’s Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case – the head of the UK civil service in the UK – urging him to stop Scottish civil servants working on a prospectus for independence. Murray wants to “ultimately reverse” this process after it became known that 11 of them would be working on this.

“Many would consider this is a deeply inappropriate use of public funds at any time,” wrote Murray, “but not least while Scotland is still in the midst of a pandemic, when energy bills are rising and families’ household budgets are squeezed.”

Like all of Sarwar’s interventions on independence it was a juvenile stunt by Murray and, to borrow his own invective, “a deeply inappropriate use” of a shadow Scottish secretary’s time and energy.

Murray was immediately rebuked by Professor Adam Tomkins, the former frontbench Tory MSP who holds the John Millar chair of Public Law at Glasgow University.

Tomkins tweeted: “Muscular Unionism was stupid, self-defeating and rightly abandoned when Whitehall flirted with it last year. It’s equally stupid and self-defeating when pushed by folk who should know better such as Ian Murray MP.” Ooft, as the Twitterati might say.

On Monday, Labour’s UK leader, Sir Keir Starmer, was widely praised for his measured condemnation of Boris Johnson following publication of Sue Gray’s update on the Downing Street Festival of Covid. It hardly needs pointing out that Basil Brush would seem statesmanlike next to the UK Prime Minister.

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Starmer chose to include this quote from Margaret Thatcher during his windy soliloquy: “The first duty of government is to uphold the law. If it tries to bob and weave and duck around that duty when it’s inconvenient … then so will the governed.”

Try telling Britain’s mining communities that Thatcher was a paragon of decency and standards in public life. During the 1984/85 miners’ strike she commandeered the Metropolitan Police as her own private army to menace them before withholding their benefits and ensuring they would never have the chance to support their families again.

But then Starmer, Murray and Sarwar would probably also have condemned the miners as extremists and, to use Thatcher’s phrase, “the enemy within”.

The Labour Party, north and south of the Border, seems now to have re-positioned itself as a slightly better-groomed version of the UK Tories.