After two summers of fratricide, this summer has been one of quiet contentment in Labour’s ranks. The party’s unexpected success in denying the Conservatives an overall majority in June’s snap election brought about a lull in the internal squabbling about its direction and leadership that had marked the previous two years.
But now, it seems, that lull is about to come to an end, following Kezia Dugdale’s sudden decision to stand down as the party’s Scottish leader. Those loyal to the UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, have never forgiven Dugdale for backing Owen Smith in last year’s leadership contest—though in the event it was Dugdale rather her critics whose view proved closer to the preference of a majority of Labour members in Scotland. Meanwhile, the fact that at three points the increase in Labour’s vote in Scotland fell far short of the ten-point increase south of the border has been blamed by Dugdale’s critics on her alleged failure to embrace Corbyn’s popular radical agenda.
This undercurrent now looks set to come out into the open, as those loyal to Corbyn try to secure control of the party north of the border. The contest for the succession will be a battle between Richard Leonard, a backer of Corbyn, and Anas Sarwar, sometime Deputy Leader of the Scottish party who, like Dugdale, last year backed Owen Smith. Such a contest will, for all practical purposes, be yet another rerun of the debate about the merits of “Corbynism.”
In truth, the characterisation of Scottish Labour under Dugdale as being to the right of Corbyn’s UK party is open to question. In the 2016 Scottish Parliament contest she was willing to increase the basic rate of income tax in Scotland whereas in June Corbyn was not proposing to make basic rate taxpayers pay a penny more. Meanwhile under Dugdale’s leadership the party in Scotland has embraced unilateral nuclear disarmament (despite her opposition), whereas Corbyn has failed to persuade the UK party to take such a step.
Was Scottish Labour under Dugdale to the right of Corbyn’s UK party? “That’s open to question”