By a Newsnet.scot Reporter
Edinburgh MSP Kezia Dugdale won an expected sweeping victory as the latest leader of Scottish Labour, just as “Corbynmania” threatens to make mainstream party figures like her seem irrelevant.
The 33-year old MSP, first elected as a list MSP to Holyrood in 2011, beat rival Ken MacIntosh MSP by 72 per cent to 28 per cent when voters figures were announced today. Fife MSP Alex Rowley beat off unpopular Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson to win the deputy leadership.
Dugdale, reported to have met Corbyn during his rally in Edinburgh yesterday, will be marginalised if the Islington MP’s current lead in the UK Labour race results in a resounding victory, as polls suggest. She has publicly backed Corbyn’s rival Yvette Cooper, and cast doubt on the Islington MP’s ability to win a UK election.
She may have to conduct a volte face if she is to have any influence on a Corbyn-led Shadow Cabinet in future, and the omens may not be good.
Corbyn’s Scottish campaign is led by Neil Findlay MSP, from West Lothian. Findlay was crushed by Jim Murphy in last year’s Scottish leadership battle, with Dugdale running as the other half of Murphy’s winning ticket. Findlay, from the Labour left, is seen by many as a man who speaks more to the Scottish Labour electorate, and especially those Labour members and supporters who either voted Yes in 2014, or switched to the SNP in the aftermath of the referendum.
Labour faces a massive challenge in Scotland, and a very different one from its uphill battle in England. As the candidate of the party establishment, Dugdale may be caught in that battleground. She described herself today as “someone without the baggage of the past”, although her campaign appears to have been organised by the usual party suspects and bore all the hallmarks of past Labour leadership campaigns.
Corbyn’s anti-austerity, anti-capitalist message is striking a deep chord with the dispossessed and the young in England, in a way similar to that enjoyed by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and the supposition by many commentators is that his arguments will appeal to previously-discontented Labour voters in Scotland.
The problem with that argument is that – although Corbyn has appeared to show a willingness to form an anti-Tory alliance with other parties including the SNP during the current Parliament – he remains firmly against an independence referendum, or the negotiation of added powers to the Scottish Parliament, beyond the Smith Commission.
Dugdale ran a bland, cautious campaign for this leadership. Observers believe the calculation was that, with the party machine behind her, all she had to do was avoid pitfalls. Her Daily Record column is famously sugar-coated. In terms of media, she appeared only in stage-managed events and media interviews marked by an apparent inability to speak freely or to display her abilities to think beyond the sound-bite. This inhibition may be why she cancelled a previously-agreed interview with Newsnet Radio, presented by Yes supporting journalist Derek Bateman, despite MacIntosh happily taking part in a similar arrangement.
A former students’ union official, Dugdale worked in the office of former MSP Lord George Foulkes for four years before entering the Scottish Parliament as a list MSP in 2011. Born in the North-east, Dugdale was Head Girl at Harris Academy in Dundee before studying at Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities. She is due to fight the Edinburgh East seat for Labour in 2016.
Alex Rowley’s victory leaves his rival Matheson with a major question mark over his political future. The divisive council leader has been under pressure to stand down quickly as Labour group leader in Glasgow, where his party faces a potential wipe-out at the hands of the SNP. Party rivals were furious that Matheson intended to use the position of deputy leader to demand first place in the party list so that he would almost automatically get a seat at Holyrood next May.
Now Matheson will have to fight it out with various rivals before he can get a free ride to the Scottish Parliament.