What now for Scottish Labour

What now for Scottish Labour?

Let’s start with the most fundamental question: is Kezia Dugdale going to stay on as leader of the Scottish Labour Party? Unequivocally yes.

Even after a result, which sees the Scottish Labour Party as the third force in Holyrood and left her “heart-broken”, she has vowed to carry on.

Kezia will get her chance. There is no mood in the new MSP group to move against her and given the revolving door that is the Scottish Labour leader’s office since 2007 the wider party do not wish to add another former leader to the ranks.

But the party is not in fine shape. Slipping to third in seats behind the Tories; although this almost happened in 2015 as in Roxburgh, Berwickshire and Selkirk the SNP squeaked ahead of the Tories by only 328 votes; and losing considerable vote share in once heartlands means much thinking is required.

There has been plenty of analysis on the results, coming from all perspectives, as is always the way when you lose.

Paul Hutcheon in the Sunday Herald has the, now annual, inside story of the campaign, John McTernan in the Scotsman highlights what he sees were the three strategic errors in the campaign, but Dave Watson expanding on his piece in the Sunday Mail has more reasons to be optimistic.

Where now?

Out of the embers of an electoral firestorm there are some talented new Labour MSPs been elected, albeit many have said the Party didn’t go far enough to promote new talent ahead of an election where the majority of the group would come from the Regional Lists:

Colin Smyth, MSP for South of Scotland, a former teacher, General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, and current campaigner for Parkinsons UK Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway councillor is a tough campaigner, with a first rate political brain who understands life outside the central belt.

Monica Lennon, MSP for Central Scotland, a former Town Planner and current South Lanarkshire councillor will bring experience from outside of politics and will be a hard-working champion in a previous Labour heartland of Lanarkshire.

Daniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh Southern, the only Labour gain on the night where he won his seat from the SNP. Johnston is a small business owner and has worked his patch, which includes the current Labour stronghold of Morningside as Ian Murray holds the similar Westminster seat. He understands the needs SMEs and business, and building an electoral coalition needed to win.

Richard Leonard, MSP for Central Scotland, who will leave his role as Political Officer for GMB Scotland to take his seat. Richard has a strategic policy mind with deep connections into the labour movement in Scotland – which the SNP have made considerable progress courting over the past decade.

Pauline McNeil, MSP for Glasgow, the former Glasgow Kelvin MSP until 2011 brings experience from her previous three terms, and given her successful time as commentator outside of Holyrood has a smart insider/outsider perspective on the way forward for Scottish Labour.

Anas Sarwar, MSP for Glasgow, the former MP for Glasgow Central and deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party is the undoubted big name signing for the Labour in the Scottish Parliament. A confident, up-beat and effective media spokesperson he’ll bring dynamism to the group.

Added to the current top three performers of Kezia Dugdale, Jackie Baillie and Iain Gray they’ll give a spine to a team that must try and plot a recovery.

Since the polling day Kezia Dugdale has promised a “fresh start” but in truth seems to be sticking to the strategy executed during the campaign – attacking the SNP from the left on tax, using the new powers of the Scottish Parliament, higher public sector spending, anti-austerity and more.

The view from Team Dugdale is that this positioning will cut through, but didn’t last week because of the short period of time they had to land their message with an electorate, that in post-referendum Scotland, wasn’t willing to give the party a hearing.

The counter point, of course, is the electorate heard fine but didn’t like what they were selling.

It will be a bumpy few weeks as Labour adjusts to being the third party in the Scottish Parliament and Kezia, one of the best Parliamentary performers, finds her groove and role in the new political landscape.

But with an SNP government with a renewed mandate and a resurgent Scottish Conservative party in opposition Scottish Labour will need to need to find that role, and fast, if they are to begin to rebuild for the long term.

Written By

Gregor Poynton