The two candidates bidding to become leader of the Scottish Labour Party go head to head in front of party members in Edinburgh tonight at the first hustings of the contest.
Political Editor Ian Swanson spoke to Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh about why they want the job and what they would do if they got it.
Lothian list MSP
First elected: 2011
Educated: Harris Academy, Dundee; Aberdeen University (Law); Edinburgh University (Policy Studies)
Aide to Labour Lothian MSP George Foulkes, 2007-2011
‘If you’re good enough then you are old enough’
Kezia Dugdale has been an elected politician for just four years, but now finds herself on the brink of taking over the helm of the Scottish Labour Party at one of the lowest points in its history.
The Lothian MSP starts as favourite in the contest to replace Jim Murphy after serving as his deputy for the six months before the general election as Labour tried in vain to fend off the SNP’s post-referendum surge. It looks a thankless task.
“The reason I want to do this is because I think the Labour Party’s values are as relevant now as they have ever been,” she says.
“OK, we live in an ever-changing world and it looks very different from 1945 when we set up the welfare state and the NHS. But I believe ultimately in a more equal and fairer world.”
So how does she hope to restore the party’s fortunes?
“We need to recognise our problems didn’t happen overnight and they won’t be fixed overnight. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild.
“The election result was devastating for the Labour Party – and there has been worse news since. In a poll last week, 80 per cent of people between 25 and 34 are going to vote SNP. Why is it people of my age, with my background and a similar outlook on life don’t think the Labour Party stands up for them? I don’t pretend to understand right now why that’s the case, but I’m going to. I’m going to speak to as many people as I possibly can to understand their hopes and aspirations and take all the lessons to the Labour Party.”
Ms Dugdale is making no predictions about how the party will do in next year’s Holyrood election, but she knows it’s not going to be great.
“My goal for next May is for the Labour Party to be clapped off the pitch at the end of the season, for people to give us a nod and say ‘Fair play, we understand you’re changing, you’ve done well’.”
She believes one reason for the SNP’s big election win was that its attitude was more positive.
“If you look at the manifestos, they were very similar in lots of ways but people preferred the SNP’s outlook on the world.
“We said to the country ‘Here’s a list of things that are wrong – low pay, too many young people out of work, not enough opportunities – and here’s how we’ll fix it’. The SNP went to the electorate and said ‘Scotland’s great, but it can be better’. People bought into a more positive vision of how our country can be.
“I want to be more positive about the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean replicating the SNP strategy because when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, I don’t believe their progressive credentials stand up to scrutiny.
“I believe and Labour believes you should tax wealth and share it. The SNP say they believe that, but every time they are given an opportunity to vote for it they step back.”
So can Labour still make the same pitch to voters north and south of the Border?
“Dare I say it, Tony Blair was just as popular in Scotland as he was elsewhere in the UK,” says Ms Dugdale. “I don’t think Scotland and England are vastly different in terms of what we believe in.
“I don’t think you can just speak to the centre ground or the aspirational middle class and think that’s how you’re going to win. You have to have enough to say to everybody.
“So yes we’re all about tackling low pay, giving young people opportunities, but we also recognise we’re better able to do that if we can create enough wealth to tax it and share the dividends of that across society.
“I’m very comfortable with the idea of entrepreneurialism and people setting up their own businesses and making their own money, but only if we encourage them to be good employers, to be rooted in their communities and to share the wealth. I think that’s the Labour way of doing it.”
She is not in favour of Scottish Labour becoming independent from the UK party, but she says: “There’s a difference between having more autonomy and being independent – I think it’s totally possible for the party to make all its own policy in Scotland and still be part of a UK-wide movement.”
Ken Macintosh has said she is not experienced enough, but she says she has served her political apprenticeship and has been taking on the First Minister at FMQs every week.
“I’m 33 years old, but so what? If you’re good enough you’re old enough. I think it’s time for the next generation to lead the Scottish Labour Party.”
MSP for Eastwood
First elected: 1999
Educated: Royal High School, Edinburgh; Edinburgh University (History).
Television producer and journalist, BBC, 1987-99
‘Continuing as we are cannot be the answer’
KEN Macintosh says Labour has to change. He wants the party to stop being so negative, be ready to work with others and open itself up.
He has been an MSP since the start of the Scottish Parliament and stood for the leadership after the party’s defeat in the 2011 Holyrood election, losing to Johann Lamont.
Mr Macintosh has set out a series of changes he wants to make to end “machine politics”, including moving the party headquarters to Edinburgh and setting up regional offices across the country, encouraging more debate at party conferences, and giving a voice to the voluntary sector and even the private sector.
“I’m conscious these ideas might strike people as very internally focused,” he says. “But they are based on the premise that if our party doesn’t reflect our values, people see through that.”
He says in the past the party has been “too controlling”. “People use words like entitlement, party machine, ‘all about power’. These are the things I’m trying to break away from. We need to be far more alongside the people we represent.”
He says the changes are necessary for Labour to win again.
“If all you do is lurch from one election to another, which is what we always do, and manage our way through and quite often take the path of least resistance – there are many in the party right now who would like that – that can’t be the answer.
“We’ve been in a steady decline and if all we can do is think about the next election and how we survive it, that is an utter failure.
“I have a strategic vision of the kind of party I want us to be and it is not aimed at next year’s election.
“It is aimed at first of all turning us around, turning us into a constructive opposition. That’s the first task – that we stop being so negative, stop being so aggressively anti-SNP, angry about everybody and even sounding bitter, and talk positively about what we believe in and what we’re going to do and talk about our vision for Scotland.”
In the end, he says, it’s about “sharing power with the people of Scotland, showing we care about them more than about yourself. That’s how you win them back and how you win elections again”.
He says he wants a new openness and a willingness to engage.
“Get the voluntary sector, and I would hope the private sector, to come along and contribute to debates at conference or policy forums so they have a seat in each of these forums and can feel they own part of the process. They will not just be listened to, they will be there speaking.”
But is a key part of Labour’s problem not that the SNP has taken over its ground?
Mr Macintosh says: “The thing that bothers me is all we ever do is talk about the SNP. Everything we do is shaped by the SNP agenda. For the last three years we talked about nothing else but resisting constitutional change.
“The SNP will do what they want. The last thing I would ever do is move away from our values because someone else has embraced them. I would do exactly the opposite. If they want to embrace our values, let’s embrace them too, let’s work with them, let’s find the progressive issues we can work together on.
“I would be more than happy to reach out across party lines. I want to be less tribal, I want to be less partisan. I actively want to find other progressive people in Scotland to work with. I don’t want to be oppositionalist.
“In our language I want to be more positive, more forward-looking, more collaborative, so my style as leader will be less aggressive, less adversarial, far more gentle decent compassionate. If you’re trying to create that kind of society, I think you have to be that kind of person.”
He is against a split from UK Labour, but says he wants formal negotiations to redefine the relationship.
“I would want a recognition that we are an autonomous party that chooses to be part of the UK Labour Party.”
And he rejects the idea that Labour’s problems are different in Scotland and England.
“We lost terribly in Scotland but we lost pretty badly across the UK as well. The problem of trust applies equally north and south of the Border. I do not wish to concentrate our appeal on an ever-declining number of traditional Labour voters. It’s not where the future lies. I’m proud of Scotland but I don’t recognise that our difficulties are much different from Labour in the rest of the UK and I would not wish to narrow our appeal.”
Mr Macintosh dismisses any suggestion it would have been better to avoid a contest at such a difficult time for the party. “Not to have a challenge would be bad for the Labour Party and it would also be bad for whoever took over,” he says.
“My colleagues are very down and they may think perhaps we should just continue the way we are, not have a fuss and put someone in place. But that’s so wrong. I’m absolutely not going to continue the way we are.”