Kezia Dugdale: Scottish Labour must focus on youth

Kezia Dugdale believes a younger leader will help Scottish Labour appeal to younger voters. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Kezia Dugdale believes a younger leader will help Scottish Labour appeal to younger voters. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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A revitalised party, which connects with a lost generation, can champion Scots against SNP establishment, writes Kezia Dugdale

‘I’m sorry. Sorry to the 700,000 people in Scotland who voted Labour at the general election last month. Sorry that we weren’t good enough to convince 700,000 more people to vote for us so that we could turn our values into action. And sorry to the people who need a Labour Government.

‘The answer is to make Labour electable again. I believe I can do that’

We simply weren’t good enough. You felt like we gave up on you and on our values.

That just a quarter of the electorate in Scotland trusted us enough to represent them is pretty sobering. A post-
election poll said just a tiny fraction of those aged under 35 voted Labour. That has serious implications about our long-term future as a party if we don’t reverse that trend.

Having a leader who is part of that younger generation would help. I make no apologies for my age. The fact that I am more than a decade younger than the First Minister isn’t something I can, or would, change.

I have always thought that if you are good enough then you are old enough. But my age also gives me a perspective that the Scottish Labour Party needs. The Scottish Parliament has been at the centre of political life in this country since I was a teenager.

A major criticism of my party is that we delivered devolution but didn’t adapt to it. We devolved the nation but didn’t devolve our party. So whilst the focus of public life in Scotland has been on Holyrood since 1999, too often we gave the impression of paying too much attention to Westminster instead. The most obvious manifestation of this is the perception that our most talented figures stood for the UK Parliament rather than the chamber in Edinburgh.

That has to change, and in a painful way the fact that we have just one Labour MP from Scotland will force us to change.

We must never stop holding the Tories to account and nor should we turn our backs on what we fought so hard for – pooling and sharing our resources across the whole of the UK.

But we must shift our focus to Holyrood. It’s the place with responsibility for the NHS, education, justice, transport, the environment and much more. With the major new tax and welfare powers coming to Scotland soon, we will have a powerhouse Parliament that requires a strong opposition.

Scotland needs the Labour Party. Our values of social solidarity, of helping people get on in life no matter their background, are unique.

The Tories believe people should be left to fend for themselves, and the SNP put nation above families and communities. They are entitled to hold those beliefs and I don’t doubt their sincerity, but it’s not who we are as a labour movement.

At the moment, Scotland resembles a bit of a one-party state. Now that’s down to the SNP winning so often and so resoundingly. They deserve great credit for that. But it’s not good for Scotland.

With 56 of Scotland’s 59 MPs and the government of the country coming from just one party, there’s a real risk that the institutions and campaign causes that make Scotland what it is today will become tied to the SNP. Whether it’s the NHS, our universities, colleges, the arts or any other part of Scottish society, such concentration of power isn’t good.

The solution to this isn’t to complain that the SNP are good at winning elections and somehow demand that something be done about it. The answer is to make Labour electable again. I believe I can do that.

Not by announcing a raft of new policies. We had some good, popular policies at the election – like the energy price freeze and the ban on exploitative zero hours contracts – but that wasn’t enough in itself.

People didn’t have confidence that we were on their side and that we would deliver change.

My message to people in Scotland is simply this: I am on your side.

If you are a woman facing discrimination, I am on your side.

If you are a parent whose kid needs more support at school, I am on your side.

And if you are a patient at breaking point because you can’t get the treatment you need from the NHS – I am on your side.

Scots are faced with a decade of Tory rule and an SNP Government that has been in power for more than eight years. I can be the champion that people in Scotland need against the establishment parties.

I want to lift people out of poverty and break down barriers that cause inequality and injustice. But I also want to help the people who aren’t struggling – they just want things to be a bit easier, to be able to get on.

That might be a promotion at work, a second car or just getting on the housing ladder in the first place.

Labour has historically been the party of helping people get a better standard of living. We can be that party again.

The road ahead for Labour is a long one. The journey will be difficult. We can’t expect things to turn overnight. Regaining the trust of the Scottish people will take 

But I will lead. The positions I argue for won’t always be popular with everyone but I want to end the lie in Scottish politics that you can please all of Scotland all of the time.

Politics is about choices, and I won’t hesitate to stand up against any individual or organisation that is holding back people who want to get on in life.

Under my leadership, no-one will be in any doubt what Scottish Labour stands for and who we stand with.”