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