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As I See It

Is Kezia the leader that Labour really, really wants?

Terry MurdenParty’s identity crisis

“Who is Kezia Dugdale?” asks the woman next to me in the Grassmarket Community Project. I am enquiring about hiring the Edinburgh facility for a function and the receptionist is explaining that Ms Dugdale was there earlier for a press conference.

Shown a photo of Ms Dugdale, my fellow guest says: “Isn’t that Sporty Spice?”

Clearly Ms Dugdale, who chose the venue to launch her campaign to succeed Jim Murphy as leader of Scottish Labour, has more people to impress than the party’s deflated membership.

Scottish Labour’s problems are well-documented, but nothing says more about the size of the mountain it has to climb than a failure of its potential leader to be recognised by the voters.

Ms Dugdale is favourite to land the post (she has the support of almost three-quarters of Labour MSPs), but she already looks to be heading into oblivion. The SNP’s lead in Scotland is unassailable. If First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opts for a three-year parliament next term as reported here she is almost certain of victory in 2019 because few expect Labour to have recovered sufficiently in time to reverse its fortunes. That will give Ms Sturgeon eight years in government by which time Ms Dugdale, or her only rival for the Labour leadership Ken Macintosh, will no doubt have given up the fight.

No wonder the short list of applicants for the job was so short. Poisoned chalices come to mind, along with deluded dreams of power that will never materialise.

Ms Dugdale is clearly ambitious and well-meaning. Good luck to her. But her performances so far, particularly on the economy, show how she lacks some basic understanding of who creates wealth and how it drives the social economy she wants to build.

Her pledge today to “stand up against vested interests” and to tackle the “unfairness” of private education is not an encouraging start. It suggests the same old “envy politics” that has discredited Labour and tells us that she is already out of touch with an electorate that is more aspirational than Labour likes to think. It hints at a new leadership of the party that will merely embrace the politics of the past. It has learned nothing from the entrepreneurial revolution and the growth of the self-employment economy that has taken place these past few years, together with a growing wish among the voters to distance Scotland from its dependency past.

Ms Dugdale, 33, admitted at today’s press conference that she was shocked that just 5% of people of her own age intend to vote Labour next May. Some 80% say they will vote SNP. It is not a good foundation on which to build her career or to rebuild a party which has lost its purpose and really needs to start again.

Labour’s left wing credentials have been stolen by the SNP which now talks about fairness and equality – two of Labour’s founding principles – but with a more convincing twist that has persuaded voters to switch allegiance. When the SNP speaks “for the people” it does so with a Scottish voice, whereas Labour has developed a split personality, one claiming to be Scottish, the other quite firmly rooted in the Westminster establishment that stands up for the union, Trident nuclear weapons and generally keeping Scotland in its place.

There is no chance of Ms Dugdale nor of Mr Macintosh changing this relationship with London Labour, nor is there a desire to do so. There is no wish to create a new-style Labour north of the border, let alone to consider alliances with other parties that might create a new centre party that would be the only effective challenge to the SNP. That would require imagination, and there was no hint of that at today’s press conference.

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