Tom Peterkin: Kezia Dugdale is having to develop a thick skin

Whether you love or loathe politicians (and a lot of people appear to loathe them), the majority of them have at least one quality.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale visits Punjabi Junction on Leith Walk to learn how to make chapatis. Picture: Greg Macvean
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale visits Punjabi Junction on Leith Walk to learn how to make chapatis. Picture: Greg Macvean

Most successful politicians have taken on board some advice famously proffered by Eleanor Roosevelt, the longest serving American First Lady.

It was Eleanor Roosevelt, who said “every women entering public life should develop a skin as thick as a rhinoceros hide”.

It would be perhaps a little ungallant to compare Kezia Dugdale with a rhinoceros. It is true to say, however, that so far the Scottish Labour leader appears to have plenty of the resilience required to enable members of her profession to thrive in what can be a very dirty job.

The Scottish Labour leader’s fortitude was in evidence when she was the guest of honour at a lunch hosted by the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association yesterday. Those at the lunch were curious to see how she was coping given one of the overarching themes that has developed during this Scottish election campaign is the notion that Labour’s campaign is lurching from one mini-crisis to another.

Despite respectable showings in the televised leaders’ debates, Dugdale has led a campaign that has been marked by a couple of blunders that do not bode well for polling day.

First there was the suggestion that she had shelved a proposal to given those earning less than £20,000 a year a £100 rebate to ensure they don’t lose out as a result of Labour’s plans to put an extra penny on income tax.

The subsequent row was particularly unhelpful, because it distracted from Dugdale’s attempts to highlight the most important policy divide between her and Nicola Sturgeon.

The message that Labour was prepared to do what the SNP has refused to do and use new powers to raise taxes to tackle cuts to public services became obscured in the brouhaha.

Secondly, there was her interview with Fabian Review in which she said it was “not inconceivable” that she would vote for Scottish independence if it secured the country’s place in the EU.

On top of that were yesterday’s claims in a red top tabloid that she had applied to work for the SNP as a researcher when she was studying for her law finals 13-years ago.

The suggestion that she had flirted with Scottish Nationalism appeared to chime with her Fabian Review interview and the SNP prepared to make hay. Despite these not inconsiderable difficulties, Dugdale was in form at lunch yesterday – opening with a couple of funnies at the expense of the staff running her campaign.

To her credit, Dugdale came out fighting. She announced Labour’s intention to fully implement the recommendations of a report by Naomi Eisenstadt into how poverty should be tackled in Scotland. On the question that her fellow diners were most interested in (her alleged previous links with the SNP), she was robust.

No, she had never supported the SNP. She had no recollection of every applying for a job with the SNP. What’s more, she accused the SNP of waging a “dirty tricks” campaign against her.

The suggestion was that someone from the SNP had leaked details of her job application – something that under data protection law – should have remained confidential.

Suddenly the boot was on the other foot. Eleanor Roosevelt would have been proud.

But it still remains to be seen whether this election will be remembered for the perception that Dugdale somehow has Scottish independence sympathies or the perception that the SNP is playing the woman rather than the ball.