IT’S hard to remember but there was a time when the Labour party saw it as part of its duty to speak up for Scotland and protect its people from the ravages of Conservative politicians determined to bring them low.

Labour then was unchallengeable in Scotland. The party regularly won most Scottish seats in general elections (although even at its height it never matched the best electoral SNP performances of recent years).

It ran most councils, and most of the bigger councils. It portrayed itself as Scotland’s champion throughout all the years of Conservative rule from Westminster. I remember Labour movement marches against the Tory poll tax, against financial cuts, against unemployment.

At election after election Scotland put its faith in Labour, despite the increasingly obvious fact that Westminster would never properly take Scotland’s views into the account, and simple arithmetic made it impossible to represent Scotland’s best interests.

And even as the argument began to take root that independence offered the only way for Scotland to influence its own future Scottish Labour’s ambition was to cling to power in a dysfunctional union rather than work for a fairer system.

Labour, of course, will argue that it delivered devolution, resulting in the reconstitution of the Scottish parliament and restoration of a carefully selected range of powers. However, devolution did not fundamentally alter the balance of power. The new arrangement was given by Westminster and could be taken away or changed by Westminster. The UK Parliament remained the sovereign power and in Labour’s eyes would always remain so.

The political landscape has of course changed since then. Today’s Scotland is unrecognisable since the days of Labour dominance … and the Labour party is unrecognisable too.

This week Nicola Sturgeon travelled to Washington to give the keynote speech on what was described as “Scotland’s role in securing European energy security”.

Reporting the trip earlier this month, The National said: “As part of the talks, Sturgeon will look to offer insight into Scotland’s role in tackling the global climate crisis, the benefits of transitioning to a greener economy, and what can be done to strengthen Scotland and Europe’s energy security and self-reliance – particularly in relation to Russia’s effect on the oil and gas industries.”

The event was hosted by the Brookings Initiative on Climate Research and Action and a conversation was scheduled between the First Minister and Samantha Gross, director of the Energy Security and Climate Initiative.

Given Scotland’s role in the oil and gas industry and its increasing role in renewable energy, you might think it entirely reasonable that it should be invited to contribute to this discussion. Indeed, in most countries in the world it would be considered a privilege to be invited and regarded as an acknowledgement of its importance.

Not in the UK, of course. The media reaction to the news is instructive. When the Tories described the First Minister’s visit as an “indy tour” and accused her of promoting independence abroad at the taxpayer’s expense the Unionist press used the claim in their headlines.

The BBC’s low key – some would say almost non-existent – coverage of the visit came under fire, notably from the station’s former head of news and current affairs in Scotland Stewart Easton.

On right-wing TV channel GB News, Dan Wootton described the trip as a wasteful attempt to draw attention to the independence cause.

Hopefully you’ll indulge me if I point out here that coverage like this proves yet again the advantages of having a pro-independence mainstream media voice such as  The National to report events such as the Washington trip in the proper context.

Without it, newspaper readers – and despite falling circulations, there are still many thousands of them – would have no alternative to a wall of Unionist propaganda on front pages across the land.

The Conservative criticism of the trip was yet another example of the Scottish cringe which considers any suggestion that Scotland ever deserves a place on the international stage as simply laughable. Tory constitutional spokesperson at Holyrood, Donald Cameron, seethed that the American visit was an example of the First Minister taking her eye off the ball when Scotland was facing a cost-of-living crisis, seemingly oblivious to the irony that said crisis was being botched by his own party.

Among the “outcry” (copyright Daily Unionist) it would have been easy to miss a tweet from Frank McAveety, a Labour councillor in Glasgow, and leader of Glasgow City councillor from 2015 until 2017. He wrote: “The continuing and sad saga of woman who wandered round the fringes of #COP26 a few months ago grabbing selfies and photographs now on tour in Washington attempting the same schtick … “ItsAllaStunt”

It’s was a desperate display of how far Labour has fallen that any sign of Scotland being taken seriously anywhere in the world has to immediately be held up to ridicule.

Labour has every right to believe it would make a better fist of running Scotland than the SNP but someone in its communications department must surely realise that denigrating the country so publicly and sneeringly is not the way to winning support for a party on which so many have turned their back. It’s long past time to ask itself why so many of its former supporters would no longer touch the party with a very long stick.

AND before anyone argues that criticising Nicola Sturgeon isn’t necessarily the same thing as criticising Scotland they should bear in mind: 1. As the First Minister of Scotland, the country where COP26 was being held no matter what crackpot argument Boris Johnson put forward to deny the obvious, Nicola Sturgeon surely had the responsibility to use an opportunity to raise the country’s profile in the eyes of the world.

2. The fact is she did so remarkably well should surely be celebrated rather than mocked.

3. To use COP26 and the Washington trip as political weapons against the First Minister, McAveety had first disparaged the very notion that Scotland had any right to be regarded highly at COP26 and at Washington. How else can he ridicule her ambitions to achieve that aim?

Labour is now so desperate to score political points against the SNP that it regards any damage inflicted on Scotland as merely collateral in a wider tribal conflict. For proof look no further than the party’s disgraceful behaviour in the aftermath of the council elections earlier this month.

After the scale of the SNP victory emerged Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar emphatically ruled out coalition deals with other parties either to keep the SNP out of power or to help it gain power in individual local authorities.

To be honest, such a policy was itself pretty astonishing in that a Labour leader was admitting he would rather see the Tories running a council than work with the SNP to prevent it. But at least it had the benefit of consistency.

The reality is that Labour has been only too happy to do deals with other parties … but only to damage the SNP. In South Lanarkshire, for example, Labour took control of the council with support from the Tories and the LibDems, despite the fact that the SNP was returned as the largest party.

Yesterday Labour took control of Stirling after Conservatives accepted its offer of the Provost’s post in return for support. The party is also looking to run a minority administration in Fife, although the SNP won more seats.

There was a time when Labour was clear about who represented the biggest threat to Scotland and it wasn’t the SNP. Since then the Tories have not improved their performance.

They have dragged us out of Europe against our will, inflicting untold damage on our economy, our export and many of our businesses. They have cut universal credit for our poorest families who desperately need held, they have watched the cost-of-living crisis grow to dangerous proportions without lifting a finger to help in any meaningful way.

If Labour truly think this is a party with which it should be doing deals and thus thwarting the democratically expressed will of the Scottish people just because it holds a grudge against the SNP it should hang its head in shame.