IF, as Albert Einstein observed, madness is defined by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then some senior Scottish Labour figures ought to be going for an extended lie-down under close supervision.

It’s been nearly two decades since Mike Watson, one of Labour’s original intake of MSPs proposed to outlaw fox-hunting.It might have helped his cause if this was a major issue in his constituency. I’m not sure, though, if the plight of foxes is anywhere near the top of any list of social priorities in Castlemilk, that sturdy and edgy neighbourhood on Glasgow’s southern uplands.

Watson’s vulpine intervention was an early marker for political stupidity at Holyrood and one that generations of his colleagues in Scottish Labour have seemed eager to emulate. In recent years they have re-written the playbook on political ineptitude. This is a party that was ill-equipped to meet the demands of devolution and the enhanced expectations of the Scottish electorate. That much was clear from the outset when the Scottish Labour establishment opted to rule out so-called trouble-makers such as the charismatic Dennis Canavan from its preferred list of potential MSPs.

In came an assortment of placemen and party worthies who had done little more than keep their heads down and their noses clean. When genuine talent did emerge such as Wendy Alexander and Susan Deacon they were forced to cut short their political careers by a combination of shady, in-house political machinations and a lack of support. Complacency and a sense of entitlement in traditional Labour constituencies blinded them to the threat of the SNP. The Nationalists began working the doorsteps as the Labour old guard remained inert in their Westminster drinking clubs.

The unthinkable became the inevitable as the SNP came to power in 2007 and then achieved the seemingly impossible landslide in 2011 that was the gateway to an independence referendum. It was during this campaign that Labour in Scotland first exhibited traces of Einstein’s theory on madness. The breadth of a cigarette paper couldn’t separate Scottish Labour’s high command from the Tories during the referendum with people like Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and Jim Murphy going the full British bulldog and losing a generation of voters in the process.

Mr Murphy became leader and effectively finished the party as a serious electoral force. By the time this became official with third place at the 2016 Holyrood election, it was clear to his successor, Kezia Dugdale, that the process of dilapidation had reached such an advanced stage that she also resigned. After a decade in the wilderness, it seemed at last that the party in Scotland might have come to acknowledge the delusions of the recent past.

It elected Richard Leonard as its leader, a trade unionist and that rare thing among senior Scottish Labour figures, someone who seemed to be in tune with authentic, old-school socialism that had emancipated British working people and improved their lives. His call for the provision of elderly care to be nationalised and thus liberated from the get-rich-quick exploiters and speculators was a welcome one. In electing Mr Leonard the party chose to reject the pretensions of his rival, Anas Sarwar, a decent enough chiel but one whose depth of commitment to the party can be measured in direct proportion to the height of his personal ambitions.

When it was revealed during the leadership campaign that his family firm didn’t recognise a trade union and failed to pay its lowest-paid employees the Living Wage his bid to be leader was effectively over. This hasn’t stopped his closest party associates from seeking to destabilise Mr Leonard’s leadership. Thus the party finds itself consumed in a civil war that is not in its best wider interests and that could extinguish all hope of any kind of electoral comeback in Scotland.

The fate of the so-called and ridiculously self-styled “Aberdeen Nine” is the weapon by which this vociferous faction has chosen to damage Mr Leonard’s leadership. The “nine” are Labour councillors in Aberdeen who have chosen to prop up a Conservative administration on Aberdeen City Council by working in a coalition with them to keep the SNP, the largest party on the council, out of office. For this they were rightly suspended by Ms Dugdale. They have since refused to back down and now face expulsion.

There are some red Labour lines that form the basic conduct party members expect of their elected representatives. First is: Thou shalt not give succour and support to any Tory administration (and certainly not one run by the most reactionary and right-wing Westminster parties in living memory).

Laughably, some of these self-important Labour councillors have advanced the view that their Tory masters on the council are decent coves and quite progressive, really. I hae ma doots.

The petition to defend the “Aberdeen Nine” was launched by Professor Hugh Pennington, a man who has wrapped himself tightly in the Union flag.

Astonishingly, a raft of senior Labour figures in Scotland has chosen to back the nine. They must know that many former Labour supporters were among those who returned the SNP as the largest party in the Aberdeen council elections. Do they really think they have the slightest chance of getting them back by indulging these cranks?

Of course, this isn’t really about the councillors at all. Rather it bears all the hallmarks of a right-wing coup against Mr Leonard orchestrated mainly by those figures who almost destroyed Labour in Scotland. As such, it isn’t about Labour values (how could it be?); it’s about thwarted personal ambition.

Mr Leonard needs to act decisively in this and expel the “Aberdeen Nine” immediately and without referring the decision to London. Then he needs to act with similar ruthlessness in rooting out his enemies closer to home. It’s the first big test of his leadership.