TURNING around the fortunes of Scottish Labour is a five-year project, Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale warned as she announced she was putting her name forward to lead the party.
She said Labour needed a cultural change and she could offer a “fresh start” following the disastrous general election result which saw Labour reduced from 41 MPs in Scotland to just one.
Ms Dugdale, 33, who has been deputy leader for the past six months, said: “The problems of the Labour Party didn’t happen overnight and they won’t be fixed overnight.
“Politics in Scotland has entirely and fundamentally changed. That happened both in the referendum and at the ballot box in the general election, so the Labour Party has to change too.”
She said she would bring “less anger and more good humour” to the leadership.
But she said the change needed was “much bigger than one person, one policy, one structural change”
Last autumn, in an interview with the Evening News, Ms Dugdale ruled herself out of a leadership bid at that stage, saying the party needed a “superhero” in the wake of Johann Lamont’s shock resignation.
But she said politics had changed and the characteristics and skills needed to lead the Labour Party were different now from the ones six months ago.
“What I’m bringing to the table, I hope, is a sense of creativity, a bit of imagination, empathy and organisational skills,” she said.
She also signalled a switch of focus for the party from its former Glasgow heartland to the Capital – a change previously agreed after the 2011 post-election review, but never fully implemented.
Ms Dugdale said: “The heart of politics for the Labour Party is now Edinburgh.
“That’s where our one and only MP is, that’s where the Scottish Parliament is, so the idea Labour will do its politics anywhere other than here in the Capital is a nonsense.
“The political arm of the Labour Party will be here in Edinburgh. We may always have a base in Glasgow for organisational reasons, but this is the centre of Scottish political life.”
She said that after Labour’s “catastrophic” election defeat, she wanted to hear from people who had moved from Labour to vote SNP, understand why they had done so and what Labour had to do to get their vote back.
“I was approached in Portobello by two separate women. They said they were so pleased I was standing, could they have a selfie and then they went out of their way to say they had voted SNP. They had done it with a heavy heart, they didn’t regret it, but they wanted to come back to Labour and wanted to see a Labour Party worth voting for.”
Ms Dugdale said she was not making any grand predictions about next year’s Holyrood elections. “I’m going to work with all my Labour colleagues to put the best case for Labour values and ideals and we’ll see where we get to.
“But this is not an 11-month task, this is a five-year project I’m signing up to and I’m looking for the support of my party to make that fundamental change which is not just about surviving from one election cycle to another. It’s about modernising and changing the Labour Party, a fresh start, a new approach. This is our last chance to get it and if we don’t get it, that’s it.”