Scottish Labour’s new leader will need plenty of time and a lot of luck in rebuilding her party
KEZIA Dugdale yesterday became the sixth leader of the Scottish Labour Party since the SNP came to power at Holyrood in 2007. The SNP’s success and Labour’s habit of changing leaders are not unconnected. After decades during which it could take electoral victory in Scotland for granted, Labour found it difficult to come to terms with defeat. For the past eight years, leader after leader has promised to “listen and learn”, to make the party a credible political force once more.
But, instead, Labour has continued to lose support and the SNP has soared in the polls. After its near clean-sweep in May’s general election, the SNP is predicted to win every constituency in next year’s Holyrood election.
Scottish politics has transformed in recent years and Labour seems unable to find a way back from the wilderness. It is impossible to overstate the size of the challenge facing Dugdale. Her party is in the poorest of health and she finds herself leader, in part, because more experienced colleagues lost their seats in 2011.
In First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Dugdale faces an opponent of consummate skill; a gifted parliamentarian who manages to be both hugely popular with the public and ruthless in her pursuit of victory. In a recent interview, Dugdale spoke of her admiration for Sturgeon. This was in keeping with the “new politics” which demands that those participating reject the traditions of confrontation and attack.
The problem with this approach is that politics demands conflict. If Dugdale is to have a hope of making inroads into the SNP’s lead, then she will have to get angry. A chummy relationship with Sturgeon will do Dugdale no good. Rather, she will have to be relentless in her pursuit of Scottish Government failings: the Scottish education system is floundering; NHS waiting time targets are not being met; and Police Scotland continues to cause concern.
Yes, Dugdale requires positive, inspiring ideas in these areas, but she also requires a righteous sense that the SNP is getting things wrong. She must be Sturgeon’s sternest critic, rather than her admirer.
The SNP has managed to win power on a decidedly centrist policy agenda while convincing many that it is a party of the left. It would be a mistake for Dugdale to attempt to win back support by dragging Labour further to the left. The current enthusiasm among many Labour members for the politics of Jeremy Corbyn – front-runner to become the next leader of the party at a UK level – might tempt Dugdale to go left but she should examine carefully what the SNP says and does before doing so. She will see that the Nationalists recognise that the Scottish electorate remains small ‘c’ conservative.
The party should accept Dugdale will require time if she is to have any chance of rebuilding the party’s support.
This means she cannot be judged on the result of next year’s Scottish Parliament election.
Instead, she needs time to develop policies that chime with the aspirations of Scots. It would take a miracle for Labour to win back control of Holyrood next year and Dugdale cannot be expected to perform one.
It’s not important solely for Labour supporters that Dugdale gets her party back on its feet: a healthy democracy requires a healthy opposition, which we currently lack. The Scottish Government has not been successfully held to account by opposition MSPs in recent years.
Dugdale is a bright, likeable but largely untested politician. She should be given time and space to develop as a leader. She has just landed possibly the most difficult job in British politics and deserves admiration for stepping up to a task that few would relish. Many will wish her luck. She will certainly need it.
Expansion of Edinburgh International Book Festival needs to avoid interfering with local events
THE Edinburgh International Book Festival is one of the finest of its kind in the world. It’s an event of which Scotland can be justly proud. Acclaimed authors from across the globe sing the praises of the book festival and reader enthusiasm means that, each year, many of the events sell out in minutes.
But, although the capital’s annual celebration of the written word is a jewel in our national cultural crown, for a great many Scots it’s distant and inaccessible. This is a dreadful pity for there are few more enduring relationships in life than a love of literature.
Events such as the book festival do not solely satisfy the desire of existing fans to meet their literary heroes, they can also inspire youngsters to acquire the reading habit. And that is something which is very much to be encouraged.
Those who begin reading at an early age stand a greater chance of academic success. But more importantly, they stand a greater chance of understanding the world around them, of reaching some insight into the human condition.
So we are fully supportive of plans by the book festival’s director Nick Barley to roll out a series of events across Scotland.
A series of mini-festivals are to be staged in areas which are currently not served by literary events. Barley says that several new events are to be held each year for the foreseeable future and that he hopes they will help instil a love of reading and books in those who attend.
Remote areas such as parts of the Hebrides are likely to be included in the programme of book festival-linked events. This truly is marvellous news.
But organisers must be careful that the new plans don’t clash with existing festivals staged in such places as Wigtown, the Borders, Ullapool, and Boswell in Ayrshire. The risk that comes with an increase in the number of book festivals is that quality is diluted. It would be a pity if this were to happen.
It’s important, too, that small existing festivals don’t suffer because of the proliferation of new events.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is a big player in the literary world and it must tread carefully as it sallies forth from its home and across the country.