“Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the Red Flag flying here.” So goes Jim Connell’s 1889 anthem, traditionally sung at the end of every Labour Party conference. For Neil Findlay MSP, Labour’s former Scottish health spokesman, to label his Labour frontbench comrades Jackie Baillie and Anas Sarwar as “flinching cowards and sneering traitors” is about as bad as it gets.

He accused the Blairite wing of the party, whom the BBC still call “moderates”, of spending the last three years leaking, briefing and – a bizarre one this – “employing journalists” to write bad things about their leader, Richard Leonard, who has just resigned. They are also in the pockets, said Findlay, of “millionaire donors” whom, he said, had ordered the party to dispense with Mr Leonard.

So, a conspiracy by Starmer-Blairite puppets, their strings pulled by capitalists, is how the left account for the departure of the first truly socialist leader the Scottish Party has had since ... well, since never, really, because Labour leaders, in Scotland, have never been especially left wing. This goes back to the days of Ramsay MacDonald, the Scot who split the party in the great schism of 1931.

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Right-leaning Labour figures largely rescued the party from the divisions over Bennism in the 1980s. John Smith, Donald Dewar, Alistair Darling, George Robertson and, of course, Tony Blair. Those were the days my friend, as the Red Review act used to sing at conference. Scottish Labour politicians dominated Scottish and UK politics in the 1990s. Labour’s greatest achievement of those glory years was the delivery of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. Yet it has been downhill ever since. Boris Johnson was right that devolution has been a disaster – for Labour.

There was nothing inevitable about this. As Blair said on Friday, Labour’s problems Labour’s problems have largely been of their own making. Most of the big beasts in the party shunned Holyrood as a provincial legislature in the noughties. Thereafter, Scottish MSPs laboured, if you’ll excuse the pun, under the double handicap of appearing both second rate and under the thumb of the party in London. This was the “branch office syndrome”, identified by one of Labour’s better recent leaders, Johann Lamont when she resigned in 2014. That hurt because it was essentially true.

The bizarre speculation now that the former UK leader, Gordon Brown, could ride to the rescue of the Scottish Party, even though he isn’t an MSP, is a measure of just how confused the party is about its identity. Such a die-hard unionist could never convincingly take on Nicola Sturgeon. Scottish Labour have to find a leader who lacks that baggage, is not dominated by London, is broadly on the left and who has a relatively open mind about the constitution.

On paper, Leonard should have made a pretty good leader. Solid trades union background, left but not woke, intelligent guy. He was on the Corbyn wing, but was not tainted by anti-Semitism or ultra-leftism. Everyone, including Nicola Sturgeon, calls him a “decent and likeable man”, which unfortunately tells you all you need to know. If he was a real threat they’d be calling him all the bad names under the sun. Politics is like that.

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Leaders have to connect, and Leonard just didn’t. After three years he remained an unknown, the invisible man, the politician that Scottish voters couldn’t name. Nor could Angela Rayner, the UK deputy leader, who introduced him as “Richard Lennon” at a conference in September. Perhaps it’s his English accent, perhaps his speaking style. The former Labour MP, Tom Harris, compared Leonard to one of the those flailing armed balloons outside US car dealerships.

The truth is that Richard Leonard is decent chap in a pit of wolves. All parties succumb to factionalism eventually, but when it comes to fratricidal warfare, no-one does it better than Labour. The next leader to sup from the poisoned Scottish chalice will be the tenth since Donald Dewar died of a brain haemorrhage in 2000 – all of them suffered from division one way or another. They come and go like football managers.

Anas Sarwar, a former MP and MSP, is the bookies’ favourite. Some in Labour favour a BAME leader because journalists and SNP politicians risk being accused of racism if they are disrespectful to them. Mind you, some on his own side are not be entirely respectful of Sarwar. His decision to educate his children privately did not go down well. In 2017, he was accused of being “one of the few” because of his stake in the family firm, United Wholesale (Scotland) Ltd, which at that time did not pay the real living wage.

The indefatigable deputy leader, Jackie Baillie MSP, is now interim leader for the second time. In truth, they could probably do worse than keep her there, at least until the election. She is a tough, confident and intelligent speaker, though probably too associated with infighting and divisions of the past. She’s sometimes called “Nuke ‘Em” Jackie because of her support for Trident in her constituency.

Monica Lennon, the health and sport spokeswoman, seems to be gaining a lot of traction, at least in the press. She scored a notable Holyrood success with her period poverty bill and has taken on the Scottish Government over drug deaths. But she is relatively new to politics, having only been elected in 2016, and there might be questions about her ability to lead a divided party into a potentially disastrous election.

READ MORE: Richard Leonard quits: 'Sneering traitors' blamed for decision

The sensible time for a leader to depart is after they lose an election, not on the very eve of it. Labour are currently jostling with the Tories an incredible 30 points behind the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon is heading for 72 Holyrood seats in May, according to a New Statesman analysis last week, with Labour returning 19, five fewer than the Tories. That’s no way for a new leader to start afresh.

Whoever takes over the wreckage will then be stuck with the claim that they are taking dictation from Sir Keir Starmer, who has come out against an independence referendum. Perhaps the promise of “radical federalism” after Labour’s constitutional commission may help Labour to differentiate themselves from the Tories, but that will just seem like more of the same.

Their only hope is that Nicola Sturgeon, who is mainly responsible for the SNP’s extraordinary success, will somehow be tarnished by the Salmond fallout. But it hasn’t happened so far. People used to say that Scotland was a one-party state under Labour back in the 1990s. With the SNP expected to win a greater landslide even than 2011, we are nearer now to one-party dominance than ever.

As the former MP, Ged Killen, vividly described Labour’s faction fighting: “The house is burning down and we’re arguing about what colour to paint the walls.” Is Labour a democratic socialist party or a social democratic party? Who knows. Who cares.

In truth, there is very little material difference in domestic policy between Labour and the SNP. They are both left-of-centre social democrats. The only issue that really matters is the constitution and independence.

And on that single issue Labour are talking a language voters don’t want to hear.