I’ve been doing this blog now for over 8 years. As the risk of coming across all ‘it were all fields here when I were a lad’ and all that, I can remember quite a few of the bloggers from when I started. One of them in particular never really struck me as future leadership material. Then again, like with Nicola Sturgeon, I wasn’t looking for signs of leadership potential with Kezia Dugdale.
|...And it's goodnight from him.|
That’s not to say that she’s not leadership material. The problem I have is that it’s just too early in her career for her to be landed with such a huge job. Strike that, it’s a massive job with the near certain guarantee that her party will be defeated again in next May’s Holyrood elections. In essence, Dugdale’s task for next May is to halt her party’s decline and maybe get her party into the position where Bute House is a realistic shot come 2019 (or whenever the next but one Holyrood election will be). To do that, they need to put pressure on the SNP Government.
Under Murphy, they’d started to do that. Though why they ran a Holyrood campaign for a Westminster election will be lost on everyone… unless Murphy tells all in his memoirs. They’d flagged up the SNP’s record with waiting times at my local hospital, forgetting that the RAH was poorly run when Labour were in charge of… it wasn’t government at that point, was it? They’ve flagged up the labyrinthine replacements for Standard Grades & Highers as well as the falling standards.
Of course, none of this will work without viable policies. It’s this which Scottish Labour have dramatically failed at for the past three elections, which explains the relentlessly negative attacks on the SNP. Given the tack hinted at with their attacks on how the SNP have ran public services, perhaps they should pitch for the modernisation of those public services. After all, the SNP have been remarkably conservative when it has come to the running of those public services. Reorganisation of the moribund Health Boards might be a flier, while policies aimed at driving up numeracy & literacy rates could well be eye-catching. If Dugdale was feeling really bold and radical, she could pledge to replace the Council Tax. A move that would instantly put the SNP on the back foot – given it was one of their policy pledges in 2007.
The early days, indeed conceivably whether she lasts beyond next May’s election, probably depends on the outcome of the main UK wide leadership election. With this in mind, Dugdale should press for more autonomy for the Scottish party. To date, we do not know the leadership’s honest opinion of the conduct of Scottish Labour since… well probably since the SNP retained power in 2011. Certainly the seeds of their behaviour goes back that far, Scottish Labour’s decline goes further. If Dugdale pushed for more autonomy, it will give her more leeway to push for… ah… “Scottish solutions for Scottish issues”. Policies that might not sit well with Cooper or Burnham, let alone Corbyn or Kendall. Conversely, a degree of autonomy might insulate Dugdale from any further fallout from the UK-wide leadership election.
The only certainties about Dugdale’s election to the leadership of “Scottish” Labour is that she faces an uphill battle to even stand still from 2011 and that her fate is not fully in her own hands. Outside of the party line, no one really knows what she stands for. In this respect, the comparison is not with her immediate opponent, Nicola Sturgeon, but with the two most recent Conservative Prime Ministers. David Cameron became leader of the Conservatives five years after his entry to the House of Commons, the fastest rise to leadership of the two main parties since the war. Hug a Hoodie, Compassionate Conservatism and Vote Blue, Go Green were his early slogans, but we really had to wait until the 2010 election campaign to get Cameron.
John Major’s rise might have been comparatively slow, entering parliament in 1979 and appointed to cabinet in the aftermath of the 1987 election win followed by being appointed Foreign Secretary and Chancellor in the 18 months before the fall of Thatcher, yet the perception was of Major being a Thatcher placeman, rather than the harbinger of Blairite New Labour-ism (in terms of policy, rather than presentation) that he became. Dugdale entered Holyrood in 2011, we are not even at the end of her first full term at Holyrood. Granted, that rise is nowhere near as rapid as Ruth Davidson’s rise.
It’s not inconceivable that Dugdale could end up being the next First Minister in 282 or so days time, it’s just highly unlikely. Given the huge hole “Scottish” Labour finds itself in, handing the keys to the car to the youngest candidate available has the potential to be a recipe for disaster. If “Scottish” Labour want to get out of the mess they find themselves in, they must ignore the almost certain defeat heading their way come next May. For them, the planning for 2019 begins now.