Human, compassionate, and will be missed

Labour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall reflects on the shock resignation of Kezia Dugdale as Scottish Labour leader.


Kezia Dugdale resigned as Scottish Labour leader last night, just two short years since being elected to the post. Scottish Labour members, including our MSPs and MPs, were largely taken by surprise at the news, which came in a hurriedly arranged interview with the BBC’s Brian Taylor.

In that interview Kez said she felt she was leaving the party in a better state than she found it. I think only her most die-hard opponents could possibly disagree.

When she put herself forward for election as leader, Scottish Labour was reeling from the catastrophic 2015 election result and was being written off as a spent force by its opponents. The SNP stood seemingly unassailable, and Labour was being cast as yesterday’s party. Today it is the SNP looking tired and weak, on education, on health and on social justice, and it is Kezia Dugdale’s resurgent Labour Party taking that fight to them in parliament and on the streets.

Of course leadership is as much about internal dialogue and persuasion as it is about representing the party to the public. In working tirelessly to push through internal reforms to rebuild the Labour family in Scotland, Kez went further than many would have done in her position. She won necessary autonomy for the party and representation on the UK ruling body. But she also democratised annual conference, enabling it to pass policy with which she personally disagreed; and then, true to her word, she argued for and defended that policy on behalf of the Scottish membership. Others could learn a lesson from that approach.

This dignified and highly principled democratic instinct was the hallmark of her internal leadership; but so was a steely determination. The achievement of 50:50 gender balance on candidate selections in 2016 and 2017 might look to an outsider like a minor footnote, but it involved standing up to deeply ingrained entitlement and the deployment of a charm offensive on an industrial scale. And it won her enemies as well as friends.

Perhaps her boldest move was the attempt to outflank the SNP on the left in the 2016 election. Never expected – or, one might argue, intended – to succeed in itself, this was rather a statement of position, a re-assertion of Labour’s historic mission. While it could not deliver sufficient electoral return to make a difference, it did serve to effectively redefine Scottish Labour from a perceived backer of the status quo back to being a radical movement for social justice, and laid the groundwork for the recovery which would later follow.

Ironically for the constant, sniping voices on the hard left of the party which strove to undermine her from day one, Scottish Labour under Kez was more committed to economic justice than the UK party under Corbyn, with more progressive policy on tax and social security. In post-referendum Scotland she understood that Labour needed to drag the argument away from constitutional wrangling and back to social justice, again and again and again. It is sad indeed that she has now stood down just as that strategy was beginning to bear fruit. One must hope that the excellent team she built up to deliver this strategy will be allowed to complete the job.

And running through all of these achievements, and also through those moments when things didn’t go quite as well as might be hoped, we always, always saw from Kez a compassion and an authenticity which cut through the cynical lens of politics and showed us a human being of simple, perhaps at times naive, principle. She wasn’t a player, or a schemer. She did things because she thought they were right. And in so doing she reminded us what the Scottish Labour Party is about.

I know that Scottish Labour will miss having Kezia Dugdale as its leader. We must now hope that her successor can find similar qualities to bring to the role, and can build on her substantial achievements. Thank you, Kez, for all that you’ve done.

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21 thoughts on “Human, compassionate, and will be missed

  1. Kezia did a great job for us, and was improving every day. Without a doubt she will be a hard act to follow.

    Although I expect no single issue triggered her resignation, I genuinely hope that those who attacked her from within the party don’t end up regretting their actions.

  2. I knew Kez well when she was a back-bencher taking her Sharkbuster campaign around Scotland. Full of energy and humour. She took up the mantle of Party Leader when we were at our lowest and has transformed us but the two years seem to have burned her out. Maybe Scottish Labour is just not leadable. I don’t see any clear and obvious candidate to replace her

  3. I regret that Kezia has resigned but sniping at a leader from their 1st day in office is a party trait unfortunately. It will be interesting to see who puts themselves forward to carry on the good work.

    1. Excellent comment Margaret. Many of us on the left, who did not appreciate Kezias opposition to Corbyn in the summer of 2016 nevertheless supported her. Sadly, those who show indignation for those who opposed her, are often the worst offenders in still demonstrating their ‘implacable’ opposition to Corbyn. If the new Scottish leader is from the left (not sure what the ‘hard left’ means here), no doubt they will have a new target to twitter snipe at.

  4. She appeared to totally unsuited to the job, and going about it by aping the worst traits of the excerable Murphy/McTernan regime didn’t help her one bit. She did more backflips than a circus act.
    There is something very odd about this whole business, though. Why would a leader resign from what she claims to believe is a reviving party, and why when Sally McNair describes decision as breaking news, did the B.B.C. have a prerecorded iinterview in the can, an interview in which she was asked even fewer hard questions than Ruthie tank commander normally gets.

  5. Even though I haven’t voted Labour since 2010, Kezia comes across as a principled and likeable politician. I sincerely hope she continues her role in Scottish politics in some way shape or form.

    However politics is a harsh business and leaders must share responsibility following bad results. Under Kezia’s leadership, Labour slipped to 3rd party in Scotland at Council level, Holyrood and Westminster between 2015-2017.

    I appreciate dozens of seats are now back in play in Scotland for Labour but if winning 7 seats is now considered a success, then perhaps the writing was on the wall.

    However Kezia was head and shoulders above the clueless buffoonery that passes for Corbyn’s leadership in Scotland.

    He has attacked the Scottish Government for not allowing public sector bids for the Scotrail franchise, even though Ministers only got these powers in March 2016 under the Scotland Act, a full 2 years after the current contract was awarded.

    Unitl then, it was illegal under the 1993 Railways Act to allow public sector bids for franchises.

    What was he suggesting, no trains running here until the Scotland Act made its way through Parliament?

    Then to ponder out loud whether Scotland could have a separate legal system to England was amatuer hour.

    Dear God, all hope is gone.

    1. Scotland does have a separate legal system to England and has had since 1707

      1. Exactly, that’s the point. It makes me cringe when I hear politicians talking about ‘British or UK law’. No such thing exists! There are 3 separate legal systems in the UK.

  6. Two years in post? Improving party?
    I hae ma doots!
    Dugdale inherited a mess: a party in turmoil in Scotland after Murphy did his utmost to destroy it. But that was also a problem for Kezia: too close a relationship and Murphy. Also too inexperienced.
    Scottish Labour needs a Leader with deep roots in the party: who will be there for a decade or more: someone who is not just a Corbin lackey.
    Is there such a person?

  7. Sorry Duncan but I respectfully disagree with both your hypothesis and conclusion.

    Kezia was deputy leader at the time of the disastrous 2015 campaign. Under other circumstances she would have been expected to resign at the same time as Murphy, in the event the dearth of options meant she effectively ran unopposed for the leadership (sorry Ken)

    I would hope i’m not the die hard opponent of anyone in the Labour party but your assertion she left the party stronger than before is, at least on the basis of electoral success, not true.

    Under her tenure Labour dropped from second to third in the Scottish parliament and from joint last to third in Westminster. Labour lost control of Glasgow city council and despite a (likely Corbyn influenced) boost, party membership is still below 30,000, and well below the SNP’s 120,000 .

    Brexit is, of course, not her fault but if there was a uniquely Scottish labour case for remain I never heard it.

    The significance of Scottish Labour autonomy has been over exaggerated and there’s no evidence to suggest it is an issue for voters or potential voters. It could, in theory, disarm one of the SNP’s oldest tropes but they grew out of regularly deploying “Labour does what London tells them” quite some time ago.In any case this autonomy has far to often been used to virtue signal, allowing Scottish Labour to adopt positions that sound as “right on” as the SNP but over which the party in the Scottish Parliament has no influence. Achieving party autonomy was, at best, too little too late.

    Similarly 50:50 gender balance on candidate selection has its advantages as well as disadvantages, and I’ll concede it looks progressive, but its electoral influence is negligible and it is certainly not an issue which is worth making enemies over.

    I welcomed the attempt to outflank the SNP on the left (way way overdue in my opinion) but this was attached to a campaign message of a government in waiting which no one believed and your assertion that this tactic was not expected or intended to succeed is incredible. The redefining of Scottish Labour as radical movement of social justice remains a work in progress and its completion, most importantly in the eyes of the electorate, should be the priority of the next leader.

    You say Kezia recognised that the country needed to move on from constitutional wrangling but acting as if the country has already moved on is not the same as genueinly shifting the debate and the constitution has continued to dominate since she became leader in 2015. The prevaricating on the union (a position inherited by Murphy) may well have been born of noble intentions, but it was incredibly demoralising to unionist labour supporters and didn’t when any yessers round. When the first minister ignominiously dropped her in it during the last leaders debate, the accusation was far to easy to believe.

    It breaks my heart that a petty opportunistic nationalist party is in charge in this country and that their most effective opponent is the conservatives. I’ll vote for any leader that can fix this.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful contribution, Rob, I appreciate it.

      To address the central point, Kez took over a party with one MP and little hope and leaves a party with 7 MPs and lots of hope. Your argument that the revival of the Tories means that this 600% increase in seats is not a success is difficult to accept.

      I do accept that the party still has a long way to go electorally, and have never argued otherwise. And the bulk of my argument is that the bulk of Kez’s success has been outside the electoral sphere – the rebuilding of the Labour family and the delivery of democratic reforms.

      I stand by both my hypothesis and conclusion.

      1. Don’t get me wrong i’m grateful that labour are (by at least some measure) in better shape than they were this time 2 years ago, but the pace of progress has been frustratingly slow. Particularly when i think of the ideological/ policy calibre of our opponents in that period.

        Perhaps when more time has passed you could offer the new leader some advice in the form of a slightly more critical retrospective of the Lamont/Murphy/Dugdale era but for now I’ll accept that if a patient’s on deaths door, getting them breathing again is no small achievement!

  8. The question is, who next?
    I fancy a real deranged Corbynite. There must be lots of candidates lining themselves up .
    But I know I’m going to be disappointed, I always am. After work I’m going to see what the odds are on an unopposed coronation of a Mr Anas Sarwar.

    1. The answer is who cares? She set the bar so low anybody can now step down and drink from the poison chalice.
      Come on Duncan here is your chance at last.

  9. My money is still on Ruth Davidson retaining her leadership of Labour in Scotland in spite of losing her Deputy and closest ally.

  10. Well folks we got the headlines and the speculation that goes with it. So here is what I think. We have had 5 leaders in 6 years. When Kezia took over the party was in a mess. We had lost most of our MPS at Westminster then we went into 3rd place at Holyrood We lost at the council elections but did not get the wipe out expected.
    None of that is Kezias fault. Its hard to believe its only 2 years since she got the top job . She I feel perhaps she did not get the support she needed within some sections of our party. In my opinion she set out to rebuild the party its a long time job . She made sure there was no civil war within the party. We have never been more united.
    I don’t know Kezia . The first time I saw her on tv was during the Indy campaign.
    Young confident prepared to have a go. I thought and said then there is a future leader. She has for me laid out the framework to rebuild the party in Scotland .She has set policies in place which we will carry forward. She has gained autonomy for the party within our UK party frame work.
    At times she had differences with the UK Leader . I think this is a good thing and necessary for our next leader
    She and the rest of us are often accused of SNP bad all the time .
    The SNP are in power at Holyrood. That is why we hold them to account.
    Over the last 2 years at FMS questions. Kezia has steadily improved Kezia has frequently got under the FMS skin reduced her to hectoring and having to be bailed out when John Swinney gives the signal to start clapping. Our FM has also had to suffer the indignity of having to answer the question . The Colonel Ruth the tank commander is not the one who has done that.
    For me it has been KEZIA DUGDALE. Over the last few months on tv I thought she is not enjoying it. Sometimes I think the mark of a good leader is to know when to go.
    I thought although I did not expect it . I thought her statement was personal and dignified no finger pointing no recriminations .
    Here in North Ayrshire after losing a by election to Labour the SNP without being forced to and against the wishes of at least 2 of their own councillors resigned control of NAC to Labour. Labour retained control of NAC at the local government election.
    That shows what a united party can do. At the UK election Scottish labour started to fight back at MP level and Kezia for me was a big part of that.
    During her 2 years she has brought stability to the party we did not get the expected drubbing at the local gov elections We started our fight back at the UK elections indeed we against expectations made gains . We are told one of our PMS aides fainted must have seen jobseekers allowance coming.
    Then we had the EU ref Kezia for me out shone other Scottish leaders . Kezia in 2 years you have a great record .
    Our next leader will have to build on it. Starting with the 21 Holyrood elections . The new leader will I am sure have your help and support .
    The next step is up to the Scottish party members elect our new leader stay united and as we head towards 21 and all the political pitfalls and arguments we need to do what we do better than any other party listen and talk to ordinary people.
    They will tell us their everyday worries . Then we do what Labour does best fight like hell for them .
    Do that and elections will start to take care of themselves. Its what we do in North Ayrshire. So comrades as a party we will not let ourselves our party Kezia our next leader and especially our ordinary people down. For me and others its what Labour stands for

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