Nicola Sturgeon’s shadow looms over Labour

Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham during last night's debate. Picture: BBC/PA

Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham during last night's debate. Picture: BBC/PA

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LABOUR’S UK leadership 
candidates have clashed on issues from the economy and welfare to Tony Blair’s legacy – and how they measure up to Nicola Sturgeon.

In a live televised debate, the candidates were asked by one audience member what qualities they shared with Nicola Sturgeon that would make them a successful leader.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “I have respect for Nicola Sturgeon because she has been consistent in her views over many years about independence for Scotland. I disagree with a lot of her views.

“I do think for the Labour Party which has campaigned for women’s equality for over a century it would be fantastic to smash that final glass ceiling and elect a Labour woman leader of the party and a Labour woman prime minister.”

Shadow health minister Liz Kendall agreed it was “time to have a woman leader”.

Veteran left-winger Jeremy Corbyn said he had shared a platform with Ms Sturgeon, speaking against the Iraq war.

He said: “She has been very effective in mobilising a large number of people in Scotland and putting forward an anti-austerity message which resonated with a lot of people.

“Our fundamental mistake in Scotland was the Better Together campaign when we joined up with the Tories instead of 
promoting our own Labour values and what we would want for a more radical Scotland in the future.”

Andy Burnham, the favourite in the contest, said Ms Sturgeon was “a plain talker”.

He said: “She speaks in a language people seem to understand. I hope I can pass that test, but the second thing about her – which is what I’m all about as a politician – is she came into politics because she saw an unfair country, where there’s a concentration of power at Westminster and elsewhere in the country people don’t get the same opportunity.”

In his opening statement, Mr Burnham claimed David Cameron had spent the election campaign “stoking separation” for his own political interests.

Asked about the party distancing itself from the Blair era, Mr Burnham said: “I don’t think we would want to do that because Tony was the prime minister that won three elections for Labour. But he didn’t get everything right so we have to learn from the mistakes of that government.

“He did a lot of things right and he spoke to people’s wishes to get on in life. We have to be the party that helps everyone get on in life.”

Ms Kendall, seen as the most Blairite candidate, rejected the label. She said: “I think we do need a fresh start and I don’t have the baggage of the past.

“Unless we balance the books, live within our means and get the deficit and debt down, we can’t do all the things we’re passionate about – like tackling inequality or homelessness.”

Mr Corbyn said the party had “lost our way” and become “cowed” by powerful vested interests.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com