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After Dugdale resigns leadership...

Rowley and Findlay drop out of Labour race

Kezia Dugdale speakingKezia Dugdale: time to pass on the baton (photo by Terry Murden)

Two of the early contenders to succeed Kezia Dugdale have ruled out contesting the leadership of Scottish Labour.

Her deputy Alex Rowley and MSP Neil Findlay said they would not be seeking nomination after Ms Dugdale stunned the political community in Scotland by resigning as leader of Scottish Labour.

Contenders to replace her include Richard Leonard, Anas Sarwar, Jackie Baillie and Jenny Marra amid speculation that Corbynites in London want to seize more control of Scottish Labour. James Kelly has also ruled out running for the post.

Ms Dugdale, who made the announcement the day after her 36th birthday, said it was time for “fresh energy, drive and a new mandate”.

Labour party members were taken by surprise.  MSP Neil Findlay said: “It came as a bolt out of the blue to me.”

Ms Dugdale claimed her decision had nothing to do with her working relationship with Jeremy Corbyn,  despite her criticism of him and her support for Owen Smith when he contested the UK leadership.

She said that the party is now in better shape than the one she inherited from Jim Murphy and said she wanted to give her successor the “space and time” to prepare for the next Scottish Parliament election in 2021.

Ms Dugdale, who leaves with immediate effect, said she had devoted “every waking moment of my life” to improving Labour’s fortunes in Scotland, with a lot of progress being made and the party now ready for someone else to take it on the next stage of its journey.

She added: “I have thought long and hard about this. I care deeply about the Labour Party – I love it and I have devoted my adult life to serving it in a number of different capacities.

“And I have just come to the conclusion that the best thing for it, the Labour Party, this precious, precious thing that has done so much good in our country, and indeed for me, is to pass that baton on.”

Alex Rowley

Alex Rowley: interim leader (photo by Terry Murden)

Alex Rowley has become interim leader, but also said he will not seek the party leadership. The Executive Committee of the Scottish Labour Party will meet on Saturday 9 September to agree the timetable and process for a leadership election.

Mr Rowley said: “Under the leadership of Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour Party is stronger and more united than it was when she took the job, we have a platform on which to build. On behalf of the party, I wish her well.”

General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party Brian Roy said: “Over the coming weeks the Scottish Executive Committee of the Labour Party will decide the process and timetable for a leadership election.”

Ms Dugdale replaced Mr Murphy in August 2015 after the party lost all but one of its Westminster seats in Scotland to the SNP.

But despite her insistence that it had made progress it finished third behind the SNP and Scottish Conservatives in last year’s Scottish Parliament election. She made up some ground to defy expectations of a whitewash in June when the party won seven seats in the snap general election in June.

But her strained relationship with Mr Corbyn may have played a part in her decision to step down. When backed Owen Smith to replace Mr Corbyn in last year’s leadership contest, she said: “I don’t think Jeremy can unite our party and lead us into government.”

Corbyn and Dugdale

Labour pains: some say Ms Dugdale and Mr Corbyn were too far apart (photo by Terry Murden)

Mr Corbyn’s supporters believe the party’s improvement in Scotland was down to him rather than Ms Dugdale.

She was elected to Holyrood in 2011, after working for the former Labour MSP Lord Foulkes, and served as Jim Murphy’s deputy.

Responding to news of her departure, Mr Corbyn said: “I’d like to thank Kezia Dugdale for her work as Scottish Labour leader and the important role she has played in rebuilding the party in Scotland.

“Kezia became Scottish leader at one of the most difficult times in the history of the Scottish Labour Party, and the party’s revival is now fully under way, with six new MPs and many more to come.

“I want to thank Kez for her tireless service to our party and movement, and look forward to campaigning with her in future for a country that works for the many not the few.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that Ms Dugdale “led her party with guts and determination” while Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tories leader, said she deserved the thanks of her party.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP said: “Kezia Dugdale has been a good thing for Labour. Her open, friendly, and upbeat style was appealing. I enjoyed working with her on common causes and hope that will continue. I wish her well for the future.”

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “You gave your heart and soul to leading Scottish Labour. Thank You. You deserve to get your life back. Enjoy.”

Ms Dugdale recently announced that she was in a relationship with SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth after the ending of her engagement to long-term partner Louise Riddell.

Comment: Corbyn criticism will always colour Kez’s reign

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