Leaders: Labour squabble is a turn-off

Kezia Dugdale is the runaway favourite to win the Scottish Labour leadership. Picture: John Devlin
Kezia Dugdale is the runaway favourite to win the Scottish Labour leadership. Picture: John Devlin
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Desposed MP is hurting but heavy criticism of party only encourages more destructive in-fighting

FORMER Scottish Labour MP Ian Davidson is quite correct when he states that his party must recognise how far it has fallen. In recent years, Labour has plummeted from a position of dominance to become a pol­itical invalid, fighting for life.

‘Politics is a tough sport, and its participants must accept when their game is over’

But while Davidson identifies the need for some self-reflection by his wounded party, he seems incapable of recognising that he – and many like him – are complicit in Labour’s woes.

The former MP was part of a culture in the Labour Party that, over years, took the Scottish electorate for granted. It is all very well Davidson now complaining about what he perceived to be wrong with the party during his time as an elected member but there was little sign of him raising a word of warning while at Westminster.

Kezia Dugdale is the runaway favourite to win the Scottish Labour leadership. Her status as favourite is confirmed this weekend as it emerges that she has the backing of more than half of the Holyrood Labour group.

If she is to make a success of that role – if she is even to have a chance of doing so – then she should pay attention to what Davidson says. And then she should ignore it. In the weeks ahead she will have to give a thorough – and compelling account – of how she might make Labour a viable political force once more.

Scottish Labour has spent the best part of two decades mired in tiresome, destructive in-fighting. Turf wars between members at Holyrood and Westminster have shaken voters’ confidence in a party that they once believed had their best interests at heart.

Having lost his seat at Westminster, Davidson is understandably sore, but his intemperate att­ack on colleagues who fought and lost is of interest not so much for any wisdom that might be gleaned from it but as an example of where Labour has gone wrong in Scotland.

Voters, bluntly, do not care about the ego clashes that Davidson exposes. Instead, they wish to be inspired by parties with ideas, leaders with confidence and competence, and that old faithful, vision.

Dugdale is a relatively inexperienced politician but she has, since been elected in 2011, impressed as one of only a handful of Labour MSPs who appear to be competent and ambitious. Davidson, on the other hand, appears as a living reminder of what went wrong for Scottish Labour.

One does not have to be a Labour supporter to hope the party rallies from its current malaise. Good, honest government requires good, thorough opposition. It is in the interests of our dem­ocracy that, should she become the next leader of Scottish Labour, Dugdale is able to perform that role, supported by colleagues.

In recent years, Scottish Labour has become a little too adept at getting mired in recrimination in the wake of defeat. We’ve heard much from the party’s politicians about listening and learning but despite such talk, Labour repeatedly proves itself incapable of moving forward, of getting on with the business of politics.

Davidson states that Labour lost because of a lack of ideas. It is difficult to disagree with that, although the party has recently managed to foc­us on the right areas of policy. Scottish education is in a parlous state. This is just one area of policy that’s infinitely more important to voters than yet another slanging match between Labour politicians. Davidson, in fact the vast majority of those Labour MPs who lost their seats, are politicians of the past now. If Dugdale is to breathe new life into her party and, in the process, provide Scotland with the robust opposition democracy requires, then she needs to be allowed to do things her own way.

Davidson’s desire to blame others for his party’s current state of ill-health is understandable. Defeat will have been especially painful. But politics is a tough, contact sport, and its participants must accept when their game is over.

Prestwick deal remains a flight of fancy

THE Scottish Government’s decision to step in and buy Prestwick Airport in 2013 prevented it from closing and saved as many as 1,400 jobs.

Failure to find a buyer meant the facility was about to close its doors for good before the SNP acted. The decision was controversial but it certainly had merit: if a way could be found to encourage carriers to use it then this would be public money well spent.

But, so far, investment in the airport has not paid off. The cost to Scottish taxpayers is expected to reach £40 million by 2021/22 and still the airport is woefully underused.

During his time as First Minister, Alex Salmond tried unsuccessfully to persuade China to use Prestwick as a hub for passenger and private jets. Perhaps, in his new role as the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, Salmond can try again to find users for the airport.

The Scottish Government gambled with public money to save an airport which couldn’t justify its existence. But throwing good money after bad is not a long-term solution. If Prestwick is to remain open, sustained by the taxpayer, then the SNP must find a way of making it pay for itself. If Salmond cannot convince the Chinese to think again then he should look elsewhere.

There can be no excuses for failure to find a solution, no complaints about air passenger duty or a lack of Westminster support. The Scottish Government took this decision – bold and expensive as it was – and the Scottish public is entitled to see some kind of return on the outlay.

Prestwick faces competition from nearby Glasgow Airport, which is more convenient for business travellers who – by and large – visit the central belt, and a cull of winter services by budget flights company Ryanair has seriously harmed the facility’s tourism-related business.

On the face of things, the Government – and, by extension, Scottish taxpayers – have got a bad deal so far.

Ministers say they will return the airport to profit before transferring it back to the private sector. This is an admirable ambition but, unless investment is found soon, it seems destined to remain a pipe-dream.

Painful though such a decision might be, at some stage the Scottish Government will have to consider cutting our losses at Prestwick.