Let’s be fair: at certain times all political parties can give sack-dwelling ferrets a decent run for their money. But the resignation of Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale bookends a time from the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014 when the leadership of the faction prone Scottish party has often seemed at war with itself.
Neil Findlay, generally regarded as the most prominent Corbynite in the Scottish parliament has a diary – Socialism and Hope – due for publication shortly, which describes former Scottish Party leader Jim Murphy as a man devoid of principle; a politician consumed by PR and personal interest. And that’s in the nicer chapters.
Murphy beat him for the leadership in 2014 before presiding over Scottish Labour’s near death experience in the 2015 UK General Election when Labour lost all but one of its seats to the SNP. (They snatched six of them back in this year’s snap election.) Having tweeted a few days back that he had no further interest in the top job, Findlay may just wish he could use the delete button – despite telling the Guardian he has no plans to run.
The Sunday Herald newspaper in Scotland devoted two pages last weekend to speculating that the Corbynistas were out to depose Dugdale, Scottish Party Secretary Brian Roy, and, indeed UK General Secretary Iain McNicol to make way for Jeremy’s true believers. They quoted extensively from the upcoming edition of the Scottish Left Review which backs the UK leader and seems to think elements of Scottish Labour are holding back the red Corbyn tide.
That sentiment won’t necessarily de-rail the chances of the man who has now become the interim leader, Dugdale’s deputy, Alex Rowley. Theirs was never a marriage made in heaven, although recently Dugdale has shared Rowley’s enthusiasm for a federalised UK. Historically Rowley has long been regarded as Gordon Brown’s representative on earth, owing his short lived term as Scottish Party Secretary to his mentor, and now representing part of his old Fife seat in the Scottish parliament.
Also representing Labour’s dynastic tendency in Scotland is MSP Anas Sarwar, youngest son of the first Muslim MP Mohammed Sarwar. Sarwar the younger could never be accused of lacking ambition. Having seen his Westminster seat washed away in the 2015 tartan tsunami, he manoeuvred himself to the top of the Labour list in Glasgow, gaining a list seat in Holyrood a year later.
And there are some other Holyrood players being touted. Labour’s business manager James Kelly, who has spent a decade before the parliamentary mast, but was in charge of the party’s Scottish election campaign last year when they came in third behind the Tories. Richard Leonard, the economy spokesman has some support but has barely got his feet under the table since his election in 2016. You might think this is something of an all male shortlist, and you may well be right. Jackie Baillie a long serving MSP whose seat includes the Trident base, has often stepped up to the plate when any of the boys suffered a nasty political accident, but has thus far shown little appetite for grasping poisoned chalices long term.
Whilst the independence debate informs almost every aspect of Scottish political elections, there is a special dimension to this in the Labour Party. Back in 1999 the party’s London paymasters arbitrarily and controversially removed Rowley from his post as General Secretary. When she resigned post referendum in 2014, then Scottish Party Leader Johann Lamont angrily suggested that London persisted in treating Scotland “like a branch office.”. But, as it’s own constitution suggests, that’s exactly what it is:
“The Scottish Labour Party is registered with the Electoral Commission as an Accounting Unit (AU) of the UK Labour Party and is therefore not a registered political party under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.”
And of course it was a London based Scottish politician, Alistair Darling, who fronted the Better Together campaign in 2014, controversially joining Labour’s unionist wing to the Tories and Lib Dems – a tactic many blamed for the party’s poor showing in the following UK general election. Scottish Labour is not always an easy, or desirable , place to be situated for an ambitious politician. Kezia’s two and a half years may be regarded as a shortish reign, but then again she lasted two years more than Jim Murphy.!
First published today in Guardian Opnion