The leader of Scottish Labour on the challenges facing her party—and Scotlandby Alex Dean / November 2, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read a recent interview with Michael Heseltine here
“Progress is about finding consensus. It’s about the grey area, and the more you polarise people and push them into the corners the less you can expect change.”
In an exclusive interview with Prospect Kezia Dugdale, 35-year-old leader of the Scottish Labour Party and MSP for Lothian, spoke about how Labour can come together again after its bitter leadership contest—and win elections. While it’s on all parts of the Labour Party to heal divisions, Jeremy Corbyn making concessions is “a big part of the picture,” Dugdale said. “It would go a long way for him to be seen making some compromises around how he operates as a leader.” Stern words from such a senior Labour figure will inflict yet more damage on her widely-panned leader.
When I suggested that, in the wake of the “Leave” vote, Labour faces an impossible task in uniting metropolitan liberalism with old-fashioned Labourism, Dugdale said: “Tony Blair did it in 1997—it’s about having a vision which reaches the broadest number of people as possible.” The comment is highly controversial, given that Blair’s legacy is responsible for her Party being split down the middle.
Asked whether Scotland, having voted “Remain,” is likely to get a good post-Brexit deal, Dugdale was surprisingly downbeat: “It makes me very despondent and sad to say no, I don’t think it’s very likely.” She was more optimistic about Labour’s chances in 2020, saying the party can win if “there is a clear, strong focus on what it means to be Labour in 2016.”
A month on from Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader, Dugdale reflected on the “ugly mess” that consumed the party during the contest:
“You’ve got to understand how painful that whole leadership contest was for everyone in the Labour Party at every stage… What it does to your fabric… I weep over what we’ve done to ourselves over the last few months… Bluntly, and this is a universal lesson of history, divided parties don’t win elections.”
There’s something else Labour must reckon with if it is to remain relevant: globalisation. “It was very clear when I took over the leadership of the party after our horrific election result [in 2015] that there was a lot of work to do to review the party, not just in terms of the public’s perceptions of it but its perception of itself, the degree to which Labour values and ideas apply in 2016 in an increasingly globalised world.”
“We’re the party of work but we live in a society where work is more insecure than it’s ever been… All of the things and ideas that the Labour party was founded to represent have fundamentally changed now, so it’s no surprise to me in a way that the party’s going through a massive foundational change.”
Dugdale is clearly under no illusions regarding the electoral challenge facing the Party. “I certainly don’t think Labour can win without Scotland—I think the maths of that are pretty stark,” she said, before acknowledging that, given the SNP’s 2015 landslide in Scotland, and Labour’s near-annihilation, her job is “universally considered the hardest job in British politics.”
“When it comes to taking on the SNP my priority is to expose… that they are not the progressive left-wing force that they make themselves out to be… There’s no doubt that down here [in Westminster] Nicola Sturgeon is seen as a democratic socialist, a progressive, left-wing leader—that is not my experience.” Furthermore, her pursuit of independence amounts to “economic vandalism,” said the MSP for Lothian.
In the wake of the Brexit vote, the First Minister courted several high-power European Leaders. Despite this, Dugdale explained why she does not think Scotland has a future in Europe:
“All the indications are that whilst there’s a lot of sympathy available for Scotland in Europe, it doesn’t mean that a deal is going to be forthcoming… You’ve got leading figures from across the European Union saying that the constituent member is the United Kingdom. That ‘We are only going to talk to the United Kingdom.’”
And while Sturgeon is standing up for the Scots who voted “Remain,” it is important to remember that one million voted “Leave.” Dugdale thinks they have been misunderstood: “If you spend 30 seconds with one of those voters you’ll leave believing you’ve just had a conversation about immigration. Spend three minutes or 10 minutes with that voter, you’ve actually just had a conversation about globalisation.”
Despite the uphill struggle her party is facing, Dugdale remains upbeat. “In the 100-odd years the party has existed—and in that time the party’s only been in power for 28 of those years—all the major transformational change that’s happened in this country has happened while Labour’s been in power. Now I get to carry this precious thing called the Labour Party. Yes it’s in a difficult state but with a proud record like that, with the values that it has, I think it’s got a very bright future.”