Ian Murray’s defence of Kezia Dugdale reveals Labour splits

Scottish Labour’s most senior MP has been singled out for criticism by his party leader after defending Kezia Dugdale from critics following her decision to quit the Scottish Parliament.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

In the latest episode to lay bare Scottish Labour’s deep divisions, Richard Leonard opened a meeting of his parliamentary group at Holyrood yesterday by telling MSPs that Ian Murray was wrong to say the party was “full of thugs and incompetents”.

Mr Murray’s critics within the parliamentary party in Edinburgh had been expected to bring a motion seeking his censure or even suspension from Labour, but no formal move to punish the Edinburgh South MP was made.
The row stems from messages leaked to the media from a private Labour group following the announcement by Ms Dugdale, who led the Scottish party from 2015 to 2017, that she would be standing down as MSP.

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Her leadership was marred by rows between Scottish Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, as well as internal strife between supporters or Mr Corbyn and Ms Dugdale.

Responding to criticism from colleagues following Ms Dugdale’s announcement, Mr Murray wrote that Ms Dugdale’s critics had “spent a lot of her time as leader trying to get rid of her and when they were successful they’ve spent the time after her leadership trying to force her out”.

He added: “The party in Scotland is full of thugs and incompetents and this is just the latest in a sad tale that sees us on 14% [in the polls].”

The messages are understood to have been leaked to a journalist by another Labour parliamentarian. Sources were quoted in a newspaper describing Mr Murray’s comments as a “disgrace”.

Mr Leonard is understood to have told parliamentarians not to criticise Labour staff.

A source close to Mr Murray said: “Rather than targeting our hardest working MP, the leadership’s focus should be on who leaked this and why, and addressing the intimidatory tactics of those who briefed against Kez and now want to force Ian out of the party.

“Ian won’t be bullied out of Labour anyone.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “We do not comment on leaks.”

Ms Dugdale announced last month that she would be leaving the Scottish Parliament to take up the role of director at the John Smith Centre for Public Service at the University of Glasgow. Friends of Ms Dugdale’s say Labour’s decision to withdraw financial support from Ms Dugdale’s defence of a defamation case brought by a pro-independence blogger contributed to her decision.

Mr Murray was previously the subject of a “coup” attempt by Mr Corbyn’s supporters, who tried to stop him being elected chairman of the Westminster Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party after the 2017 general election.

He resigned as shadow Scottish secretary in 2016 in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership, and has not been asked to return to the front bench.