Contenders confirmed in Scottish Labour leadership fight

MSPs Ken Macintosh and Kezia Dugdale
Image caption Ken Macintosh and Kezia Dugdale are standing in the Scottish Labour leadership contest

What does Labour, in Scotland, need? A prolonged period of study and debate, to examine what has gone wrong for the party and to work out how to put it right.

Will it get that? Nope. Elections are pending - elections are always pending - this time for Holyrood. OK, they are not until next May. Hands up those who think Scottish Labour is ready and raring to go for that contest. Yes, thanks. Hands down.

First, the Scottish party has to choose a new leader and deputy - in tandem with the comparable endeavour for Labour throughout Britain.

We now have the confirmed contenders. MSPs Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh for leader; for deputy, MSPs Richard Baker and Alex Rowley, plus Glasgow city council leader Gordon Matheson. Results in mid August.

One big change is that the outcome will be determined with One Person One Vote balloting. Note, person not just member. The vote will be open to members plus registered supporters, many of whom may come from the trades unions.

The previous set-up gave special standing to Parliamentarians and affiliates, including unions, alongside the constituency membership. Indeed, I well recall the grim, ironic humour with which otherwise sensible MPs and MSPs would boast of the many votes they wielded in the contest.

"Five?", you would hear them snort. "You only have five? I've got six! Fabians!"

Good-going gubbing

It was ludicrous. They knew it was ludicrous. But the entrenched traditions and customs of the "People's Party" made them reluctant to point out that the Emperor lacked a little in the costume department.

It is remarkable what a good-going gubbing from the electorate can achieve. Indeed, launching his campaign today, Ken Macintosh said that the removal of every MP but one gave Labour an opportunity to change, free from entrenched interests. He had the grace to acknowledge this was slightly insensitive.

Both Mr Macintosh and Ms Dugdale offer themselves as anti-establishment figures. However, it strikes me they mean it in slightly different ways.

Kezia Dugdale was Jim Murphy's deputy. She has led for Labour at Holyrood. She depicts the SNP as the Scottish establishment - and posits herself as countering them, while emphasising the need to project a positive image for Labour.

Ditto Ken Macintosh. But he sees himself partly as being opposed to the establishment within his own party - or "the machine" as he characterises it. His team talk of pressure to step aside, to avoid a contest.

Indeed, Mr Macintosh goes so far as to offer himself as the "anti-politics" candidate, arguing that folk are fed up of partisan bickering and want something new.

Image caption Gordon Matheson, Alex Rowley and Richard Baker are contesting for the deputy leader post

Each, of course, is reflecting in a different fashion upon a single facet of contemporary Scotland. The SNP is winning out of the park.

For the Holyrood elections, that has generated a quite remarkable phenomenon within Labour. A scramble to get to the top of regional lists as constituency seats look vulnerable.

You remember? The list route to election that was slightly denigrated by some within Labour as a "back door" to Holyrood? That back door has suddenly become enormously enticing.

Early days, of course. Both Ms Dugdale and Mr Macintosh stress that politics in Scotland remains potentially volatile, that voters can be won back with diligent effort. But both know they face an enormous fight.

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