SCOT­TISH PER­SPEC­TIVE

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The Scotsman - - News Digest -

The tim­ing and man­ner of Kezia Dug­dale’s “bomb­shell” an­nounce­ment that she has quit as Scot­tish Labour leader meant that it came as a shock.

But look­ing at the broader pic­ture, it is per­haps not al­to­gether sur­pris­ing that she reached the con­clu­sion that there is more to life than lead­ing a po­lit­i­cal party.

Tak­ing over from Jim Mur­phy was al­ways go­ing to be a poi­soned chal­ice for who­ever got lum­bered with the job, given the low ebb of the party at that time.

Fur­ther­more, there was al­ways a very strong im­pres­sion that Dug­dale was a reluctant leader. Un­like other politi­cians, she was not driven by burn­ing per­sonal am­bi­tion. Be­fore she be­came leader, Dug­dale gave a telling in­ter­view in which she ad­mit­ted she saw her­self as a “side­kick” rather than a “su­per­hero” when asked if she fan­cied a shot at the top job.

Rather than per­sonal gain, Ms Dug­dale, 36, was mo­ti­vated by a sense of duty. Her loy­alty to her party at its time of need was com­bined with a recog­ni­tion that, from a lim­ited tal­ent pool, she was the best-placed politi­cian to steady the ship.

At the time of her elec­tion, many strug­gled to un­der­stand why a politi­cian of her youth and prom­ise would want to sad­dle her­self with the bur­den­some task of sort­ing out Scot­tish Labour.

Surely, she would have been bet­ter to bide her time, build up her ex­pe­ri­ence and then aim for high of­fice once the tur­moil within Labour had sub­sided.

At times dur­ing her ten­ure of less than two years, she has looked un­com­fort­able with her ex­alted sta­tus, most no­tably when she ap­peared to flirt with the no­tion of Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence and with her ob­vi­ous dis­sat­is­fac­tion with UK leader Jeremy Cor­byn.

Nev­er­the­less, she has made a more than de­cent fist of mak­ing the best of a bad job. She can point to her re­lent­less cam­paign­ing for equal­ity, her in­ter­nal re­forms which made the Scot­tish party more au­ton­o­mous and a re­cent gen­eral elec­tion that saw Labour sur­pass ex­pec­ta­tions.

With Yes vot­ers de­sert­ing Labour over in­de­pen­dence, she ex­pended much en­ergy in de­vel­op­ing a po­si­tion that em­braced fed­er­al­ism in an at­tempt to set out a co­her­ent so­lu­tion to her party’s con­sti­tu­tional co­nun­drum.

An­other vic­tory was to se­cure a Scot­tish seat on UK Labour’s NEC – an achieve­ment which was cru­cial for the mod­er­ate wing of the party in that it meant she was able to pre­vent a Cor­bynite ma­jor­ity on the rul­ing body. She also con­ducted her­self with dig­nity through­out her lead­er­ship, win­ning many ad­mir­ers for her straight­for­ward and re­fresh­ing man­ner.

An ef­fec­tive back­room team was re­cruited in­clud­ing for­mer Daily Mail jour­nal­ist Alan Ro­den. His back­ground may have seemed in­con­gru­ous to tra­di­tional Scot­tish Labour sup­port­ers, but his cheer­ful and ef­fec­tive ef­fi­ciency helped her score no­table hits against Ni­cola Stur­geon.

In re­cent months, how­ever, she was hav­ing to jug­gle her in­tensely de­mand­ing job with up­heavals in her per­sonal life. She had spo­ken of the toll taken by the death of her best friend Gor­don Aik­man, a fel­low politico whose in­cred­i­bly coura­geous fight against mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease in­spired so many peo­ple.

Adding to the emo­tional trauma was the break-up with her fi­ancée Louise Riddell. This sum­mer it was an­nounced she had be­gun a new re­la­tion­ship with the SNP MSP Jenny Gil­ruth.

While ro­mance across the po­lit­i­cal di­vide clearly suited the two MSPS and should be some­thing to cel­e­brate in an era of po­lit­i­cal trib­al­ism, in some re­cesses of the Labour Party a less than en­light­ened at­ti­tude pre­vails and there are those who have pri­vately ques­tioned the wis­dom of the re­la­tion­ship.

No won­der Ms Dug­dale has had enough. She has come to the view that there is more to life than First Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions, end­less tele­vi­sion ap­pear­ances and sort­ing out a dys­func­tional po­lit­i­cal party. Who can blame her? In her res­ig­na­tion state­ment, she ex­plained that Mr Aitk­man’s death had taught her about how to live and “never wast­ing a mo­ment”.

Over the past two years, many mo­ments had been wasted in her pro­fes­sional life deal­ing with Cor­byn-re­lated is­sues.

Her an­tipa­thy to­wards the UK leader has been one of the re­cur­ring themes of her lead­er­ship. De­spite of­ten pur­su­ing a more pro­gres­sive agenda than the left-winger through her tax-rais­ing plans, she was seen by Labour mod­er­ates as one of the last bas­tions stand­ing against Cor­bynite dom­i­na­tion. Be­fore she be­came Scot­tish leader she warned that a Cor­byn-led Labour Party would leave Scot­tish Labour “carp­ing on the side­lines” for years. Later she sug­gested the UK leader was in­ca­pable of unit­ing Labour mo­ments af­ter he won a lead­er­ship con­test in which she had de­clined to back him. There has been, of course, a back­lash from the left. De­spite a gen­eral elec­tion in which Ms Dug­dale and Mr Cor­byn de­fied pre­dic­tions, the Cam­paign for So­cial­ism (CFS) could not re­sist a dig at the ex­pense of the Scot­tish leader.

The CFS claimed Ms Dug­dale held back the cam­paign and had tac­itly helped the Tories. It is these ir­ri­ta­tions from the left that the for­mer Scot­tish Labour leader will not miss as she moves on to pas­tures new.

But the prob­lem for Labour mod­er­ates is that the Cor­byn-in­spired lurch to the left that she worked so hard to pre­vent in Scot­land is now likely to be­come a re­al­ity.

Her de­par­ture means that her hard­won place on the NEC will be taken by the in­terim leader and Cor­byn-sup­porter Alex Row­ley – a move that will en­hance the grip of the left. Mean­while left-wingers will be swing­ing be­hind a can­di­date of their choice in the forth­com­ing Scot­tish lead­er­ship elec­tion – the favoured can­di­date last night look­ing to be lead­ing trade union­ist Richard Leonard.

Ms Dug­dale’s life may be about to set­tle down, but life in Scot­tish Labour is not. Hav­ing taken two years to steady the ship, Ms Dug­dale has just tossed it back into stormy wa­ters.

The de­par­ture of the Scot­tish Labour leader is un­der­stand­able but it puts her achieve­ments at risk, says Tom

Peterkin

0 Kezia Dug­dale’s an­nounce­ment that she is stand­ing down as leader took Scot­tish Labour by sur­prise

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