The sudden resignation of Kezia Dugdale as leader of the Scottish Labour Party has created shockwaves that have reached Westminster. The divide in Labour’s politburo-like National Executive Committee was on a knife-edge between the Corbynistas and their opponents, with a single vote holding back the Stalinist flood. The replacement of Dugdale on that committee by her deputy means that the ‘moderate’ majority has now gone. Unless there is some poorly-drafted rule that can be used to prevent the inevitable, the party’s organisation is set to tumble to the hard Left. The project to take over the Labour Party, started in the 1940s, has finally succeeded.
It may be an over-simplification to connect Jeremy Corbyn’s tour of Scotland with Dugdale’s departure, but the two events did coincide. It is standard socialist practice to pick off opponents one by one, by targeting them relentlessly until the emotional pressure is intolerable. Perhaps the truth will come out in the inevitable autobiography.
It is possible that Dugdale quit because she wasn’t all that good at her job. She is not a winner, but it may be difficult in Scottish Labour to be so. For some reason, the Scottish Labour Party has been rather chaotic for many years. Labour nationally has had four leaders (excluding Harriet Harman’s Miliband-bracketing stints) since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. In the same period, Scottish Labour has had eight. The Conservatives have had three.
The chief beneficiaries in Holyrood of the 2014 independence referendum have been the Conservatives. They are now the second-largest party in the Scottish Parliament after the 2016 elections. In June, Conservatives also won twice as many Westminster seats in Scotland as did Labour. Considering that the Conservatives had no more than one Westminster seat in Scotland for 20 years, this is a major feat by Ruth Davidson, who has managed to establish herself nationally as the person to stand up to the SNP and its annoying leader. This is a testament to the abilities of Davidson, but also to the fact that, by comparison, Dugdale has been all but invisible, certainly from England. Because Davidson was provably better at publicly opposing the SNP than Dugdale ever was, Davidson took Dugdale’s job as official opposition leader. Part of the responsibility for this has to fall on Dugdale.
Given the alignment between the SNP’s and Labour’s policies, the sticking point of unionism could have been overcome with a competent leader. The Conservative success shows that unionism remains attractive to large numbers of Scottish voters. While Labour strains at the leash to ‘fight the Tories’, it seemed incapable of stirring up the same attitude to the SNP. In June, Labour’s vote rose in England by 10 per cent. In Scotland it was less than half that. The buck had to stop at Dugdale.
Labour should have been fighting the SNP front and centre. At the 2015 election Labour were the biggest loser to the SNP. The rise of the SNP in Westminster hardly affected the Conservatives. All that happened is that from their perspective one opposition party took seats from another. Labour did not seem hungry enough to want to win the seats back.
Labour seems to have shed all its unionist credentials, so the unionist vote moved to the Conservatives. Under Corbyn or one of his followers, it is unlikely that unionism will be promoted with gusto. So the unionist vote now has a permanent home. Since the SNP will always argue for independence irrespective of reality and to the exclusion of proper thought-out policy, there seems nothing to stop a continuing Conservative revival as the SNP’s monomania continues to mess up life in Scotland.
Under Dugdale, Scottish Labour was never an anti-SNP party, when this should have been their number one priority.
Dugdale will probably be permanently replaced by a Corbynista. Given that Labour’s politics are merely anti-Conservative, it will be interesting to see how they propose to recover seats taken from them by the SNP. Perhaps their long-term strategy is to have the Conservatives take SNP seats, and then have Labour take them from the Conservatives. If this is the case, Dugdale may leave her post with a job well done.