Leaders: Dugdale’s strategy risks more party rifts

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has said that Labour MSPs can now campaign for a Yes vote in a future independence referendum. Picture: John Devlin
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has said that Labour MSPs can now campaign for a Yes vote in a future independence referendum. Picture: John Devlin
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TO those in the Scottish Labour Party who campaigned tirelessly for a No vote in last year’s independence referendum, leader Kezia Dugdale’s announcement that members should be free to fight for the break-up of the UK in a second poll may come as something of a shock.

Labour was front and centre in the Better Together campaign, with former chancellor Alistair Darling the most senior member of the team. And throughout the long battle over Scotland’s constitutional future, he and others argued that Labour’s socialism was not consistent with the SNP’s nationalism.

But Ms Dugdale’s concession that party members should feel free to hold pro-independence views is not illogical.

For one thing, we already know that a great many traditional Labour supporters voted Yes last year. Ms Dugdale already leads some people who believe Scotland should go it alone. Secondly, Ms Dugdale is in no position to turn away anyone who might consider voting for her party next year.

Many of those who voted Yes last September have transferred their support from Labour to the SNP. If Ms Dugdale wishes these voters to come back to her party, then it seems obvious that she must be prepared to indulge their views on the future of the UK.

There will be those in Labour who see the leader’s remarks as a concession too far. The referendum campaign was often brutal and those who helped No achieve victory may feel betrayed.

There is a risk Ms Dugdale could be creating more division in a party that, for some time, has not had its troubles to seek.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson was quick yesterday to try to exploit Ms Dugdale’s remarks. This was, she said, another example of Labour waving the white flag when it comes to keeping the UK together. Ms Davidson said that she and her party wanted to speak up for the two million Scots who voted No rather than “ignore them or desert them” as the SNP and Labour had.

Scottish Labour has seen its fortunes plummet in recent years. Where once it was the dominant force in Scottish politics, now it faces a fight with the Tories to be the largest opposition party at Holyrood after next May’s election.

Ms Dugdale, although she did not support his leadership campaign, will hope that Jeremy Corbyn can attract back some of those voters who believe Labour has moved away from its traditional values.

But the truth is that Mr Corbyn is unlikely to appeal to those of middle Scotland who first shifted their allegiance to the SNP because of the perception of competence.

And, while the SNP continues to dominate Scottish politics, Ms Dugdale is equally unlikely to be able to persuade Yes voters that Labour best serves their interests.

Safety of rugby players paramount

THE Rugby World Cup is providing some truly thrilling matches; and fans of the game have many more to look forward to.

But avid watchers of the sport will know only to well how often players can end up injured.

Rugby, of course, is a sport which demands contact between opposing players. But powerful athletes can inflict a great deal of damage during flying tackles.

Now World Rugby’s chief medical officer says its time to look at ways of preventing the most serious injuries, such as concussions.

A safety review is under way which could lead to a rewrite of the rules on tackling.

Many traditionalists will, we are sure, be aghast at the idea of a gentler, less physically confrontational form of rugby but it’s quite clear to us that the safety of players must come first.

A rule change in American football, making any deliberate head-to-head contact a case for sending off, has dramatically reduced the number of concussions suffered by players each year. Scientists in the US believe that repeated blows to the head received by American footballers can, in time, lead to them developing a form of dementia, with symptoms including mood swings, memory loss, and personality change.

Rugby players face the same risk as those playing in America’s NFL and, if there is reason to believe on-field injuries could leave a terrible legacy lasting for the rest of their lives, then anything that can be done to prevent concussions is a good thing.

And if that means a change of the rules on tackling, so be it.