TRY to imagine what it feels like. You get an email from your solicitor telling you, effectively, that you face a six-figure legal bill you cannot afford. There’s a risk you could go bankrupt. There’s also a chance you could lose your job. And, on top of all that, the colleagues who said they would support you have now said ‘you’re on your own mate’. No wonder Kezia Dugdale spent a few days struggling to cope. No wonder she went through one of the lowest moments of her life.

However, the personal trauma suffered by the former leader of Scottish Labour is only the start of it. First, there’s what appears to be a promise broken: according to Ms Dugdale, the UK Labour Party said it would pay her legal fees to defend the defamation action brought by Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland, but then reneged on the deal. Secondly, there’s the unpleasant sight of people who have the resources to fight a court case (Wings Over Scotland has raised over £500,000 from its followers) taking on people who do not. Everyone knows it’s easier in this country to get to court, and to win, if you’re well-off – especially in a defamation case – but it’s still unsettling to see that fact in action.

But, personal sympathy for Ms Dugdale aside, let’s look at the actual details of what’s going on here. The MSP is being sued because she wrote a column in The Daily Record criticising a tweet by Mr Campbell in which he referred to the gay Tory MP David Mundell and his son Oliver. “Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker,” said the tweet, “that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.” Ms Dugdale said the tweet was homophobic; Mr Campbell said it was no such thing and is now suing for £25,000.

It is at this point, according to Ms Dugdale, that the former Labour general secretary Iain McNicol said the party would provide the funds to take on the case and, indeed, the party has apparently already spent £90,000 doing so. But – promise or no promise – we should ask whether that original decision was the right one. Ms Dugdale wrote her column in The Daily Record and in any normal situation, a defamation case against a writer or journalist would be defended, and paid for, by the publication in which they appeared. That is standard practice in newspapers.

It is hard to see any good reason why it should be different in Ms Dugdale’s case. To be fair to The Daily Record, they appear to have been willing to provide legal support to their columnist from the start (and have now promised to do so again), but it seems it was Labour that was originally insistent on handling it all themselves. Who knows why they felt that way – perhaps there was suspicion of being entangled with a media organisation – but the Labour group Campaign for Socialism got it spot on in its response to the situation. “The content of the Daily Record is the responsibility of the Daily Record and its writers, not the Labour Party,” it said.

Apparently, the Labour Party has now realised the truth of those words and accepted the fact that a column by Ms Dugdale in The Daily Record should be the responsibility of Ms Dugdale and The Daily Record. It’s obviously regrettable that, in changing its mind, Labour, according to Ms Dugdale, has had to break a promise to one of its former leaders, but it’s surely better to reverse a misguided decision now rather than watch the bills ratchet up and up. We’ve all paid the price of politicians breaking promises, but there’s a price to be paid for keeping them too.

And shouldn’t we be more worried anyway about the real, deeper reasons for Labour abandoning Ms Dugdale? It may be that the party is proceeding purely on a legal principle, but I wonder if it would be pursuing the principle so strongly if Ms Dugdale was a Corbynista. The former Scottish leader backed Owen Smith against Jeremy Corbyn in the challenge of 2016; she has also been critical of his position on Brexit, and this sudden withdrawal of support looks like a way to punish her. The personalities are also significant: the decision to pay Ms Dugdale’s fees was made by Iain McNicol, who was neutral about Corbyn at best, while the decision was reportedly reversed by the new general secretary Jennie Formby, who’s very much a Corbyn ally.

Punishing Ms Dugdale in this way would also be consistent with what’s happening elsewhere in the party. The MP and Corbyn cheerleader Chris Williamson is currently on a rather threatening nationwide tour, on the back of a Harley-Davidson no less, that just so happens to take in the constituencies of moderate MPs. The former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie has also just become the latest MP to suffer a vote of no confidence from his local party for alleged disloyalty to the leadership. And in apparently failing to stand up for Ms Dugdale, and by implication slapping down any moderates who might support her, isn’t the Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard doing his own bit to consolidate Corbyn’s grip?

There is one other factor in all this: the lingering anger in Labour over Ms Dugdale’s decision to appear on I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! I personally had no problem with it and was turned off not by the sight of Kezia crawling through animal entrails but by the sanctimony of some of her critics. However, some of the criticism of Labour’s decision to pay her legal fees centres on the idea that she should be forking out herself from the £70,000 she earned from I’m A Celebrity.

But what does that say about the Labour movement? It may be the responsibility of The Daily Record to pay Ms Dugdale’s fees, but doesn’t Labour have a duty to show at least moral and public support for a former leader who is defending herself against a blogger who’s helped lower the tone of Scottish politics? Isn’t the lack of support one more aggressive act on top of another aggressive act? I can’t help remembering the sight of Kezia Dugdale being ostracised at Holyrood after she returned from I’m A Celebrity and thinking how unpleasant it was to see such public bullying. Shouldn’t Labour, of all parties, be fighting that kind of behaviour rather than making it worse?