The Scottish Labour Party, I think it’s fair to say, hasn’t had a good decade.

In his new book – “Ten Years in the Death of the Labour Party” – the former MP Tom Harris analyses its success (relative to the UK party) in the 1980s and 1990s, which he boils down to three factors.

First, Scottish Labour rejected the “divisive identity politics” that bedevilled the party in England; second, the moderating influence of trade unions in Scotland; third, its depiction of the UK Conservative government as “anti-Scottish”, and fourth – by association with the third – its energetic support for devolution.

While this formula worked will up till the party’s 1997 landslide election win, after the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999, it proved subject to the law of diminishing returns, with Labour finding its role, as Harris puts it, “increasingly difficult to define”.

Crucially, the third factor in Scottish Labour’s pre-1999 success came back to haunt the party during the independence referendum. “If the Conservatives had been anti-Scottish for opposing devolution then,” observes Harris, “weren’t Labour anti-Scottish for opposing independence now?” Although Labour helped win the 2014 referendum, it proved a pyrrhic victory.

Although Harris doesn’t mention it, another aspect of Scottish Labour’s post-2007 decline was the loss of a once-potent historical narrative, a story of radicalism and progress instigated by Scottish heroes and heroines. And it was lost due to energetic appropriation by the Scottish National Party.

Ever since the 79 Group, a left-wing faction of the SNP, was formed following the 1979 general election, certain Nationalists realised that if they were to displace Labour as Scotland’s main centre-left party then they needed to present themselves as the “real” Scottish Labour Party. And as soon as Neil Kinnock became leader in 1983, his party was framed as being little different to the Tories.

This strategy was ratcheted up between 2011 and the independence referendum, not least because Labour voters were crucial to securing a “Yes” vote. Alex Salmond in particular attempted to claim that the “Home Rule” once supported by Keir Hardie was tantamount to the “independence” espoused by the SNP, while giants of the Scottish Labour movement like Jimmy Reid and Campbell Christie were courted as evidence that Scottish Labour had abandoned its roots.

An interesting undercurrent of the recent Scottish Labour Party conference in Dundee, however, were attempts to wrestle this narrative back from the Nationalists. This falls, roughly speaking, into three parts: deeper Labour history, guardianship of the Scottish devolution settlement and Labour’s record in office.

On the first, last week a statue of Rent Strike leader Mary Barbour was unveiled in Govan to coincide with International Women’s Day. Although Nicola Sturgeon called Barbour “a personal hero” in a recent speech, she wasn’t present, for it was very much a Labour event fronted by former MP Maria Fyfe. Scottish Government minister Humza Yousaf was in attendance, but didn’t speak.

In his well-received speech on Saturday afternoon, Richard Leonard unveiled what he called “a Mary Barbour law” to control rents and protect private-sector tenants. This was a smart move. As one Scottish Labour veteran put it to me, “few people see grainy video of Keir Hardie and think ‘yeah, he’ll fix the school’”, but marry historical legacy with contemporary policy and you have something a bit more potent.

Scottish Labour is also busily reclaiming devolution. On this, the SNP has long played fast and loose, presenting themselves (successfully) as consistent champions of a devolved Scottish Parliament when in fact they came (very) late to the game, ie a few weeks before the September 1997 referendum. SNP MSPs also spent last Monday’s debate on the Scottish Government’s emergency Brexit legislation presenting themselves as not only defenders but instigators of the 1998 Scotland Act, throwing in lavish tributes to Donald Dewar for good measure.

Leonard et al therefore feel they have little choice but to echo the SNP’s overblown “power-grab” rhetoric when it comes to the world’s most boring constitutional crisis, the ongoing kerfuffle about Clause 11 powers. “As the party of devolution,” Jeremy Corbyn took care to note in his speech on Friday afternoon, “we have consistently argued that powers being returned from Brussels should go directly to devolved administrations.” Several speakers, meanwhile, declared Labour to be the true “party of devolution”.

The third aspect of Labour historical reclamation relates to more recent events, ie its record in devolved and UK-wide office between 1997-2010. Given the toxicity in some quarters of Tony Blair, this has proved difficult, the party’s squeamishness allowing the SNP to purloin achievements from the two Labour-Liberal Democrat coalitions of 1999-2007, chiefly the “abolition” of tuition fees and free personal care for the elderly. This culminated with the SNP’s almost unbearably smug recent party political broadcast.

At conference, however, there was evidence of a fightback. Shadow education secretary Iain Gray, for example, reclaimed the abolition of up-front tuition fees in 2001 (“whatever the SNP might try to tell you”), while shadow health secretary Anas Sarwar marked the 70th anniversary of Nye Bevan’s National Health Service, which, he joked, the SNP “would have you believe they delivered”.

So finally, it seems Scottish Labour is getting over its historical cringe and reasserting itself, although naturally there are teething troubles, not least “Keir Hardy” projected in large letters at Dundee’s Caird Hall. “OMG” tweeted the First Minister, for of course she – as the true guardian of the socialist flame – would never make such an embarrassing mistake.

“There’s a lot of fake political history around, particularly in Scotland,” shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird told delegates on day one of the conference, “and if we don’t tell our own story well…nobody else is going to do it for us.” Doing so isn’t just good for the historical record, it’s an important part of Scottish Labour’s recovery strategy.