Gina Davidson: Kezia can play the long game

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KEZIA Dugdale is the new fresh face of Labour in Scotland. At just 33 she has a major job on her hands of making her party refocus and re-electable.

Her emphasis on a “new generation” is without doubt what’s needed to counteract the deep unhappiness and resentment against Labour which has taken root in many traditionally red rosette-voting areas of the country.

For too long many of Labour’s “older generation” of politicians were complacent, took people’s votes for granted and appeared to do little for them. No matter how often Labour trumpeted the minimum wage, the Scottish Parliament, record spending on health and education, people had moved on. Those things were taken for granted, they wanted something new, more, different.

The Scottish middle-classes, those so assiduously won by Tony Blair, felt neglected by Labour as austerity struck and opportunity for them and their kids shrank. And those areas still stuck in deprivation . . . well, it’s hardly surprising that siren voices could woo them elsewhere.

So the SNP’s shiny, happy promises of a brave new independent world with fairness and equality at its heart chimed with so many. If Labour hadn’t delivered, despite decades in power, then the SNP might: cue its 56 MPs returned to Westminster and another potential landslide on the cards for next year’s Holyrood elections.

From the outside then it might appear that Dugdale has an impossible task. But one person’’s poisoned chalice is another’s holy grail, and Dugdale is an eternal optimist with a tough streak of realism, who certainly believes she can begin to turn things around. Her skills lie very much with organisation and if she can get the grassroots of the party out working again – even in some places showing face for the first time in decades – then people may start to listen to Labour once more.

She’s also reopened the selection for Labour candidates for the 2016 elections in the hope of getting new faces, new voices, into contention. People whom the public can’t just write off as “same old Labour”.

For the party does have a case to make against the current Scottish Government in many areas. From failures in the NHS and schools, colleges and universities, from stifling council tax freezes to the mess of Police Scotland and over-arching political centralisation in Holyrood, the SNP is beginning to look a little tarnished and perhaps a little more to the centre-right than some believe.

Take the education system – an issue Dugdale has, rightly, had in her sights for some time. Despite the government’s rhetoric, Scotland has the worst record on getting children from the poorest areas into university; literacy and maths levels are declining at primary and secondary; financial pressures are forcing further education colleges to scrap places and courses which would help the most vulnerable into higher education or work; universities are dropping their standards in terms of pass marks in exams because too many are failing.

So this week First Minster Nicola Sturgeon asked that she be judged on what her government does to fix these problems and launched a £100 million fund to tackle attainment levels. She admitted the gap between wealthy and poor areas was “unacceptable”. The idea of a national test for primary kids however smells a little like a reheated Tory policy.

But if Dugdale is helping to focus government minds on educational matters rather than just the constitution, then she’s already making the right kind of impact.

Of course it will be a long, hard road. People want to believe the SNP will deliver and are prepared to give them a good few innings to do so.

But I think Dugdale has it in her. I’ve met her on many occasions and, like Sturgeon, have found her witty, clever and passionate about what she believes.

Sturgeon’s ten years or so more experience might just keep Dugdale at bay for a while, and yes, it’s too late for her to turn Labour’s fortunes around for next year’s elections, but the long game has begun.

Terminal decline is cause for concern

EDINBURGH Airport is in turmoil. There have been weeks of chaos and delays in the new security hall, the security manager has departed, there are tales of check-in queues almost being out the front door and even Duncan Bannatyne has been critical.

To top it off there’s a petition against the new flight path currently being trialled over Broxburn, Uphall and Dechmont which aims to let one plane per minute take off. There’s been no discussion with communities affected and the number of planes and noise has reached ridiculous levels, waking people in the wee small hours. Chief executive Gordon Dewar must be having some sleepless nights himself.

Oh help, oh no, it’s a shambles

THE Fringe is supposed to be an arts extravaganza open to all-comers. Which is why it was disquieting to hear from a friend that she was unable to book tickets to see The Gruffalo for her family, including her disabled son, because there were only two spaces for wheelchairs.

More worryingly she was also asked to go to the box office in person to prove his disability and that she was his carer before potentially being able to book tickets for a different performance – if there was space.

Really shabby treatment by whomever was on the Underbelly box office phone that day, though apparently the latter situation is “not policy”. It was finally resolved and an apology accepted. However having just two wheelchair spaces seems less than welcoming. Wonder what Julia Donaldson would have to say about it?

Too soon to ask for forgiveness

NOT before time the Catholic Church in Scotland has issued an absolute apology to all the children who have ever been abused by priests and others within the church. It will be received by victims with much pain, with undoubted anger and some relief.

Whether they will be able to forgive, as Bishop Philip Tartaglia has asked, is unlikely at present. The denials, the cover-ups, the protecting their own has gone on for too long for forgiveness to be easily won.