Elected to the unenviable position of Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale now stands on the edge of the cliff whilst trying to haul her party back from political irrelevance. If the 2015 General Election results weren’t already an obvious indication of Labour’s brutal Scottish decline, the current outlook for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections is even bleaker.
Being the eighth Scottish Labour leader in 16 years says everything about the blatant short-termism and failure to find of a credible narrative that has repeatedly beleagered the party. The election of Dugdale would suggest that there appears to be the slowly seeping realisation that the damage done to Scottish Labour will take longer to repair than the 9 months until the next Scottish parliament election cycle. The onus now falls upon the self-styled ‘new generation’ of Scottish Labour members to try and shake off the sins of their fathers and create a wholly believable rhetoric to enthuse the electorate with.
The ‘new generation’ rebranding of Scottish Labour is a critical and somewhat cynical political ploy. It’s an attempt to change the decline of Labour in Scotland by trying to make members within the party seem distinctly autonomous and different from their Westminster counterparts. In reality, what the current evidence suggests is that the New Labour project is still alive and well within Scottish Labour (electing Jim Murphy is a case in point). Rebrands are just the gimmicky equivalent of applying a plaster to a surgical wound. The ideological polarasation within the Labour Party runs deep and surpasses the border at Gretna.
Thus, herein lies Dugdale’s dilemma, were the new leader stands at a political cross-roads on political ideology; whether to continue with the abject failure of Labour Party policy to offer nothing but an uninspired ‘Diet-Coke’ version of austerity or should they change track to something more in keeping with the contemporary political will of Scotland. We can already see, from Dugdale’s backtracking on Jeremy Corbyn , how critical this dilemma can be for the newly elected leader.
The much glorified 56 SNP MPs have the contemporary political will of the Scottish people behind them. They have been given the mandate to reject austerity and, on the face of it, appear to be trusted with championing the cause of social justice and equality throughout Scotland. The weight of that expectation now rests squarely on the shoulders of ‘the 56’, but an effective and credible opposition must be in place to ensure anti-austerity pledges are kept. This is where the new Scottish Labour leader must, in order to poach back their lost Labour voters, appease the swelling electorate that demands another way of doing politics. In post-referendum Scotland, that electorate has already been mobilising far beyond the infrastructures of the Labour Party and will continue to do so in the lead up to the Holyrood 2016 elections.
Another way is possible, no matter how many Labour ‘heavyweights’ try to discredit the electoral viability of anti-austerity politics. Corbyn rallies, the length and breadth of this country, should send as clear an indication as possible to Kezia Dugdale on how the way forward for Scottish Labour should be approached. Internal Labour Party politics will inevitably blight this clear indication, but through the murky myriad of neo-liberal New Labour voices must come a viable alternative, whether from within the Labour Party itself, or ideally, from the people it left behind