Kezia Dugdale said she took “full responsibility” for Labour’s worst election result in Scotland for a century but brushed off suggestions she should quit as Scottish party leader.
Labour woke up to a devastating result which saw the party lose one third of its MSPs and suffer the humiliation of being overtaken by the Conservatives as Holyrood’s main party of opposition.
The post mortem into Labour’s dreadful performance began almost as soon as votes started to be counted. Leading party figures claimed that a lack of clarity surrounding the party’s position on the constitution had cost Labour dear.
Labour’s attempt to appeal to both Yes and No voters led to pro-Union supporters going over to the Tories, who had taken an uncompromising stance in defence of the United Kingdom.
On Friday Ms Dugdale said she was “heartbroken” by the result, which has seen the departure of a host of well-known faces as the party was reduced from 37 MSPs to just 24.
The result saw Labour fall behind the Conservatives in Scotland for the first time since 1955 and was the party’s worst showing since 1918.
“What appears to have happened in Scotland is that we have returned to those constitutional arguments of the past,” Ms Dugdale said. “The final days of the election campaign have focussed very much on those issues of independence and remaining part of the United Kingdom. The Tories have benefited hugely from being the party to say very clearly and strongly that they oppose a second referendum on independence. There are lots of people in Scotland who are very fearful of that.
“The Scottish Labour Party had a clear commitment to oppose a second referendum as well, but we were also trying to make an argument about Scotland’s future trying to bring together people who have voted both Yes and No with a positive vision of the future of Scotland which was about using the new powers of this parliament.”
But Labour’s key message that it would raise income tax to prevent cuts to public services failed to attract voters.
Senior Labour figures including the shadow Scottish secretary claimed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK party had a negative impact.
When asked if Mr Corbyn’s leadership had been a factor, Ms Dugdale said: “I am taking full responsibility for the campaign that I have run here in Scotland.”
But she went on to suggest that the current state of the party had not helped her attempts to win support.
“It is quite apparent that when people saw a divided Labour Party across the country, it wasn’t particularly appealing in terms of getting people’s votes and being focussed on the future,” she said. “I would appeal to the Labour Party – the length and breadth of the country – to unite.”
The extent of the divisions were clear when Mr Murray, a member of the shadow cabinet, said voters did not see Labour under Mr Corbyn as a “credible party of future government”.
“That’s something, after this week’s results we should reflect on – the leadership of the party should reflect on,” Mr Murray said.
On her own leadership, Ms Dugdale said she intended to remain as leader of the party which has gone through six leaders in the last eight years.
Her deputy leader Alex Rowley also suggested Ms Dugdale should stay.
“I think Kezia Dugdale in the short period of time that she has been leader has actually made real progress,” he said.
“Kezia Dugdale has show real strength, but she she also showed real strength in saying that she would tackle austerity.”
But he added his voice to the chorus of internal criticism of the campaign saying: “We need to address the constitutional question.”