'I’m the change candidate': MSP Jackie Baillie on what makes her different from the other Scottish Labour deputy leader candidates

Scottish Labour has “handed back” control to the UK party in recent years and must find a distinctly Scottish voice if it wants to reverse it’s “extraordinary decline” north of the border to mount a Holyrood comeback, one of the party’s stalwarts has said.

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie has also called for an end to party infighting which has seen it lose touch with the everyday experience of voters north of the border.

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie has also called for an end to party infighting which has seen it lose touch with the “everyday experience” of voters north of the border.

She is bidding to become the Scottish party’s deputy leader and has warned in a scathing interview with Scotland on Sunday that the party must change or face oblivion.

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The MSP is up against left-wing Glasgow councillor Matt Kerr in the race to replace Lesley Laird, who was defeated in last year’s election.

Scottish Labour suffered a dire election performance, which saw it reduced to just one MSP – Ian Murray in Edinburgh South – the same position as in 2015.

But this disguised what was a far worse outcome. “The vote share difference is quite stark,” Baillie explains. “In 2015, we had 707,000 people voting Labour. By the time we get to 2019, that’s dropped to 500,000.

“We have haemorrhaged more than 200,000 votes. For every 17 people walking past you in the street, two of them voted Labour, only two. That is an extraordinary decline in the Labour vote, not just in the past few years but from when I was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

“My message to people is simple – if you think there is not a problem, that this decline in our vote is not a problem then don’t vote for me, because I’m not the continuity candidate, I’m the change candidate.”

Baillie is the only Labour MSP to have successfully won her seat, Dumbarton, in all five Holyrood elections to date.”

Labour has found itself replaced by the SNP as the natural party of government over the past decade or so, and even replaced by the Tories as the main opposition. The MSP says the inability to carve out a clear position on the constitutional questions lay at the heart of the decline and the defeat in December.

“We didn’t have a clear position on the two big issues of the day,” she added.

“People didn’t know where we stood on Brexit and they didn’t know where we stood on independence and a second independence referendum.

“That uncertainty I know on the doorsteps was hugely damaging to the Labour vote because people didn’t know what we stood for.

“Until we are clear on those two questions we won’t get a hearing on other issues - either our positive programme that was set out in the manifesto or indeed on attacking the SNP’s woeful domestic record.

The controversy over the hospital deaths in Glasgow, record high waiting times and falling educational attainment are areas where the opposition should be able to capitalise, according to Baillie.

The MSP says it is clear that the newly elected Tory government will not allow a second independence referendum for the next five years and she would not support another vote on leaving the UK.

“I’ve been against independence, I therefore would not facilitate a second independence referendum,” said Baillie.

“We don’t even know what Brexit would look like we don’t know what the consequences would be for our economy.”

She refuses of speculate on the prospect of an SNP majority at Holyrood next year and how this will affect a second referendum.

“If people realise the extent of the difficulties that we are in as a nation, then I would be surprised if they continue to vote for the SNP.

“But it does require the opposition, it requires Labour to do much better than we are doing.”

She added: “What’s characterised the Labour party in the past few years is that we don’t talk about hope and the future, we talk to people in the language of the past, we’re not talking to them rooted in the reality of their everyday experience. So we need to change that, we need to listen to people and we need to be reflecting what they’re saying to us.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon suggested recently that Scottish Labour split from the UK party to give it a more distinctive voice. But Baillie insists the party has significant autonomy – but the leadership has failed to use it.

“The Scottish party has a degree of autonomy – we simply haven’t exercised that in the last few years.

“We’ve handed that back to the UK party. There are areas where I think further autonomy is required, but we need to be distinctly Scottish, we need to embrace and own that, that it is who we are and it’s something where I don’t think we’ve done enough.”

Labour’s has a “proud history” in creating the Scottish Parliament and extending its powers through the Calman Commission, she adds, while the post referendum Smith Commission came into being after Gordon Brown orchestrated the Vow.

Baillie is widely seen as the moderate candidate, while opponent Matt Kerr is viewed as the left-winger, although the MSP has won the backing of the GMB, USDAW and Community unions.

And she has made it clear that an end to party infighting must be a priority if the party is to successfully reassert itself in next year’s Holyrood vote.

“People in Scotland are being failed by an SNP Government, so I want to ensure that the party unites, we end the factionalism, we end the labelling and attacking of each other and we take that same energy that we put into that and actually take the fight to the SNP and the Tories.

“That’s what we should be doing and if I’m elected deputy leader that’s what I’m going to do.”