Can Scottish Labour be cautiously optimistic?

Can Scottish Labour be cautiously optimistic?

With Kezia Dugdale’s shock resignation, Scottish Labour are now recruiting their fourth leader in as many years. Should the stars align for the new leader, the Party may be able to start to yield real influence on Scottish Government policy for the first time in over a decade of opposition.  

There will be no shortage of Scottish Labour figures eyeing the leadership and pondering their chances. The position is no longer the poisoned chalice that it once was. The snap General Election resulted in an unexpected mini-revival for Scottish Labour, defeating the SNP in six constituencies and increasing their vote share in many others. 

There are some with strong traditional left credentials in Labour’s Scottish Parliament group who may fancy their chances for the leadership. The former GMB organiser Richard Leonard is fast becoming the favourite. A centrist candidate could also emerge, with Anas Sarwar holding the most impressive pedigree in frontline politics. 

But expect to read many speculative column inches over the coming days and weeks about who the Corbynite candidate for the Scottish Labour leadership will be. 

Few of Scottish Labour’s recent Westminster wins are credited to the Party’s outgoing Scottish Leader. Rather, activists are rejoicing at the ‘Corbyn effect’ having finally broken through north of the border. A modest success, but success that has been in short supply for Scottish Labour until now. The emerging strategy is to ride the wave of popularity for Corbyn’s kind of politics back into government in Scotland. 

The SNP, Scotland’s party of government, are alive to the risks. A radical, more progressive Scottish Labour could make the SNP Scottish Government look too tired and too managerial. The content of the Scottish Government’s upcoming Programme for Government will be an indicator of just how insecure they are about being out-flanked on the left. With a new leader of the Scottish Labour Party who embraces the radical politics of Jeremy Corbyn, the SNP could be pushed further on key issues. 

This is not to understate the considerable challenges that will be piled up in the in-tray for the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Constitutional politics is still dominant in Scotland, and on both Brexit and Scottish independence – Labour are in an uncomfortable place. Neither is the party the main opposition in the Scottish Parliament having lost second place to the Tories in 2016, and the Party’s key figures have far less profile than in days gone by. 

The Scottish Labour Party still isn’t what it used to be. But with a new leader and the right message, they will be cautiously optimistic about starting to put wins on the scoreboard against an embattled Scottish Government.

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