For the first time in a long while, Scottish Labour is facing the potential of being further to the right than the party at UK level. Kezia Dugdale, a Lothians MSP, won the leadership election this weekend in a campaign that was hugely overshadowed by what is happening at the UK level. She won on a centrist platform, beating off only rival and fellow centrist, Ken Macintosh.
In the run-up to the announcement, both Scottish Labour leadership candidates made assurances that they would be willing to work with Jeremy Corbyn should he be elected leader. Neither appeared particularly enamoured by his politics – though Ken Macintosh did fumble an attempt to draw parallels between his campaign and Corbyn’s – but said they would respect the result. Good, it’s nice to see they recognise democracy.
It has been argued that a Corbyn win would play into the hands of Scottish people, considered as they are as more left-wing than their rUK counterparts. It could positively impact the revival of Scottish Labour in the run up to the 2016 elections, making many of those who have turned away from the party for being too right-wing reconsider. Indeed, for voters such as myself, it may convince some to opt for the Labour candidate in the constituency race where the preferred party (Green for myself) isn’t an option.
However, the Scottish faction of the party is separate enough to build some of its own policy – at least in relation to devolved issues. Herein lies the potential problem. With Kezia Dugdale at the helm, the party might not make a turn for the left in the way that UK Labour might. Whilst a Corbyn-fronted party may back renationalisation of the railways and energy sector, oppose austerity cuts being pushed through by the UK Government and campaign for the removal of Trident, Scottish Labour might not.
The party may do better in the Scottish elections if they do decide to align themselves with Corbyn (assuming he does win). But for some this might be seen as a risk, particularly in light of the talent in the SNP communications department who could quite easily turn a positive move on its head – something along the lines of “they’re copying out policies”. However, if Labour ever hopes to recover in Scotland it has to do something. If Kezia Dugdale allows the party to stagnate, sticking to the same message Labour has relied on for decades, even Corbyn might not be able to save it.
Parallels have been drawn between the left that has come out of the woodwork to support Corbyn and dominance of left-wing ideology in Scotland since the referendum. Indeed, whether you like the SNP or not, one must observe the incredible fact that they made such major gains in the election from a leftist platform. Until now, this seemed an impossibility for rUK – but the unexpected support for Corbyn has made many in Scotland sit up and realise not everyone in Labour stands so close to the Conservatives. Liz Kendall, dubbed the Tory-lite candidate, is expected to come fourth by quite a considerable margin.
But the new Scottish leader should be a warning that not all is fixed. Whilst Kezia Dugdale doesn’t have as many New Labour tendencies as her predecessor, Jim Murphy, she is far enough from Corbyn to make a distinct difference in policy ideas. It is worth noting the new deputy leader, Alex Rowley, is considered on the left of the party – having spoken out against some of Labour’s policies recently, even resigning from the Shadow Cabinet in protest. Dugdale would be wise to take to advice from Rowley if she wants to see her party recover. Let us hope she doesn’t draw a line in the sand between Scottish Labour and ‘Corbynomics’.
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