Leader: New Labour leader needs to rewrite the script

The party was caught out by the announcement of Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Scott Louden
The party was caught out by the announcement of Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Scott Louden
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Labour is the Holyrood soap opera that keeps on giving. Even on day one of a new leader.

In the last decade six individuals have taken the leading role: Jack (now Lord) McConnell, Wendy Alexander, Iain Gray, Johann Lamont, Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale.

All have tried, and failed, to match the energy, vision and populism of the SNP.

Despite the admirable efforts of Dugdale, Labour is now in a distant second place in Holyrood, behind Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, and with a resurgent Scottish Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson, on its tail.

And last week – at a time when the party was looking forward to the leadership election – acting leader Alex Rowley stepped down after an ex-girlfriend made harassment allegations against him.

Then, in a further twist yesterday morning, worthy of Hollyoaks or Coronation Street, Dugdale – who is still an MSP – announced she was flying to Australia to be a contestant in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

Today, after a long nine-week campaign, Labour has its new leader in Richard Leonard, who triumphed over Anas Sarwar. It should be a time for renewal and hope. UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the result could lead to Scottish Labour becoming “a real force for change”.

But the road to real power will be long, winding and bumpy.

Scotland needs a strong Labour party but that can’t happen unless it is united. That is surely Leonard’s first priority as leader, a man who easily won the union vote but commanded only a handful of votes amongst Labour MSPs at Holyrood.

Bringing the party together in Scotland will be a huge challenge.

Beyond that, a Labour revival must be based on a strong and wide appeal to voters coupled with radical policies that can grab the imagination. There has been little evidence of this in recent years.

Yorkshire-born Leonard has his work cut out to achieve all of this; just ask all those previous leaders who came up short.