Kezia Dugdale in hunt for fresh Holyrood talent

Kezia Dugdale has been named the new leader of Scottish Labour. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Kezia Dugdale has been named the new leader of Scottish Labour. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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KEZIA Dugdale vowed last night that she would recruit fresh talent to stand for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election next year after she was elected leader of the party north of the Border.

The new Scottish Labour leader signalled her intention to bring new faces to the party’s Holyrood team – a move that would seal the departure of some long-standing MSPs.

After succeeding Jim Murphy at a hugely challenging time for Scottish Labour, Dugdale appeared to acknowledge critics who have argued that the party’s MSP group looks tired and lacks individuals with the drive and talent to take on the SNP.

Following Dugdale’s convincing defeat of her only leadership rival, Ken Macintosh, the 33-year-old said she would be looking for new people to represent the party at Holyrood.

“I am going to go out and seek new people to stand for the Scottish Labour Party,” said Dugdale.

“There are people across the country who believe in Labour values, who believe in public service. They share our values of building a fairer and more equal Scotland.

“I am asking them to look at the party and join the party. If they want to stand next year, they can do that. Because I recognise that the biggest problem we face as a Labour movement is that there are not enough people in it.”

When asked if the recruitment drive amounted to an admission that some Labour MSPs were not up to the job, she answered: “I am not in the business of speaking ill of any of my colleagues, but what we will have is a democratic process where party members across the country can decide who they want to be Labour representatives next year.

“I have been very clear that I want to bring in new talent, new people to the Scottish Labour Party, and I will be encouraging them to stand next year and I will say more about that in the weeks to come.”

Dugdale, who becomes the youngest ever Scottish Labour leader, will have Alex Rowley, the MSP for Cowdenbeath and close ally of Gordon Brown, as her deputy.

The pair take over at a time when Labour is still licking its wounds from two Scottish election defeats at the hands of the SNP and its demolition by Nicola Sturgeon’s party in this year’s general election.

Once regarded as Scotland’s natural ruling party, Labour representation in the House of Commons north of the Border fell dramatically from the 41 seats it held to just one.

Dugdale faces a daunting challenge to revive a Scottish Labour Party in the face of the spectacular rise of the SNP, who returned 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs and are now riding at over 60 per cent in the polls for next year’s Scottish election.

Labour’s failure to stem the tide of SNP support has resulted in an alarming turnover of Scottish leaders. Yesterday Dugdale became the eighth leader of the Labour group at Holyrood since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament 16 years ago.

In her acceptance speech Dugdale said: “We are down, but we are not out” as she promised to work “night and day” to transform the party’s fortunes.

She said she came from a new generation and would offer a “fresh look” at Scottish politics unencumbered by “the baggage of the past”.

“I want to transform this country, to shake it up profoundly, so that the life chances of a child born today aren’t determined by how much their parents earn, but by their potential, by their work ethic and by their ambition,” she said.

Her elevation to the Scottish job comes at a time when the UK party’s future is in limbo.

Next month will see the results of a UK leadership contest, which has confounded expectations with the left-winger Jeremy Corbyn emerging as the surprise favourite against Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.

During her campaign, Dugdale said she thought a Corbyn victory would leave Labour “carping on the sidelines”. Yesterday she said she would be prepared to work with whoever wins the UK leadership.

The results of the Scottish contest were announced at the Stirling Court Hotel.

Dugdale won the contest by an overwhelming margin, taking 72.1 per cent of the vote, compared with the 27.9 per cent who voted for Macintosh. Labour said around 21,000 party members and supporters were eligible to vote in the contest, which abandoned the traditional electoral college system and was done on a one person, one vote basis for the first time.

The party did not produce an official figure for turnout, but Labour sources claimed it “approached” 60 per cent.

Rowley defeated Richard Baker MSP and Gordon Matheson, the Glasgow City Council leader.

Baker was eliminated after coming last in the first round of voting. Once the second preference votes were transferred to the two leading candidates it was found that Rowley had 55 per cent of the vote, compared with Matheson’s 44.5 per cent.

Matheson’s failure to get the deputy post casts doubt on his political future. It has been widely reported that he intends to stand down as Glasgow Labour leader at the next local party annual general meeting.

By losing the deputy leadership of the Scottish party, Matheson also forfeits the automatic place at the top of the Glasgow list of candidates for next year’s Scottish election that he would have been entitled to had he won.

Last night Glasgow City Council SNP group leader Susan Aitken said: “Gordon Matheson must now name the date when he will stand down as leader of Glasgow City Council and it must be sooner rather than later.

“He ran an energetic campaign to be deputy leader of his party, but it was entirely predicated on him wanting to get out of the council.

“He cannot, in all conscience, attempt to continue as leader of Scotland’s biggest city when he has made it so abundantly clear he’d rather not be here.

“His credibility was already badly damaged following the SNP’s stunning by-election victories in the city just over a week ago. It is now completely nonexistent.”

Profile: Meteoric rise to pinnacle of politics for a late starter

KEZIA Dugdale bristles when people suggest that she is a typical Labour apparatchik whose climb to the top of the party is the realisation of a teenage dream.

Although she is still only 33, she points out that she did not join Labour until she was 23 and did not engage in student politics as an undergraduate.

Even if she attempts to characterise herself as a relative late starter, her rise to the top has been nothing if not meteoric. She is the daughter of a Yes-voting father, who was a teacher in Elgin where she attended primary school.

Her parents divorced and she went to Harris Academy in Dundee, rising to become head girl. Her mother an educationalist (and floating voter) still lives in Dundee.

After studying law at Aberdeen University she completed a masters in policy studies from 2004 to 2006 at the University of Edinburgh.

During her time in the capital, Dugdale worked as campaigns and welfare adviser for Edinburgh University Students’ Association and as public affairs officer at the National Union of Students Scotland.

When she joined Labour, she was befriended by Iain Gray, one of her many predecessors as Scottish leader. She describes Gray as her closest friend in politics and yesterday paid tribute to his role as her “mentor”.

A talent for political research was developed while working for Lord Foulkes of Cumnock when he was a MSP. She also had a spell volunteering in the office of former MSP Pauline McNeill.

Her first real foray into frontline politics came in 2011 when she found herself at Holyrood, having been elected as Labour’s second candidate on their list for the Lothian Region.

As one of Labour’s bright young things, her star was soon in the ascendancy and she won “One to Watch” at the 2013 Scottish Politician of the Year Award.

In June that year she was appointed to Labour’s Holyrood front bench as the party’s education spokeswoman.

She helped run Ken Macintosh’s first bid to lead the party when he was defeated by Johann Lamont in 2011. Dugdale and Macintosh remain friends despite battling against each other for the top job this time round.

It was in 2014 that she memorably told an interviewer that she did not want to stand for the Scottish leadership and was likely to quit politics within a decade.

Despite this, her stock continued to rise and she was elected deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party that year after defeating Katy Clark for the post.

As Jim Murphy, the Scottish party’s leader, did not have a seat in the Scottish Parliament, she stood in for him at First Minister’s Questions – a role that has done much to raise her profile.