Kezia Dugdale: As I quit as an MSP, I’m inspired by words of John Smith

John Smith was devoted to the idea of public service. Picture: Bill HenryJohn Smith was devoted to the idea of public service. Picture: Bill Henry
John Smith was devoted to the idea of public service. Picture: Bill Henry
Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale announced yesterday that she will quit as an MSP to become director of the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University.

‘The opportunity to serve our country – that is all we ask.’ The words of John Smith at a Labour Party gala dinner the night before he died in May 1994.

Earlier this year, I listened to Sir John Major, his opponent at the time, as he delivered a speech in Glasgow about John’s legacy.

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“If the fates had allowed, he would have been a Prime Minister of distinction,” he said.

He added: “The idea that politicians should talk only to their own tribe, speaking only for – or to – those who agree with them, explains much that is wrong about modern politics.”

Today, our politics is too ­fractured. Disruptive events like Brexit and the rise of populism have led to increasingly polarised and emotional politics where rational, evidence-based ­thinking has lost its standing.

I still believe that politics is the most effective way to pursue change in our society. That’s why it is critical to the social and economic wellbeing of our nations that people are willing to choose public service as a career.

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Public service has always been my own personal passion. My first job upon graduating was as a welfare adviser supporting young people with housing and financial difficulties.

As an MSP I established my own pioneering internship programme for our future leaders.

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Former Labour leader Kezia Dugdale to quit Scottish Parliament in July

Throughout my career I have taken on tough and challenging tasks, not least leading the Scottish Labour Party when it was at its lowest ebb.

Now a new opportunity has arisen for me to take on the task of rebuilding faith in our politics.

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I am thrilled to be joining the John Smith Centre for Public Service as its new director this summer. My mission will be to rebuild trust and faith in a political process that has become discredited and disrespected in recent years.

The advancement of technology is a huge and inspiring spectacle to behold, yet it poses considerable challenges to key industries and our democracy.

Open data has the potential to revolutionise health care and public services, but it could also threaten our liberty and security.

Today, governments consistently ignore fundamental issues like an ageing population in the West and the impact of developing economies in the East.

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The solution is to restore faith in public service, politics and the political process, and ensure that progress is sustainable.

The John Smith Centre, based at Glasgow University, promotes a ­positive vision for representative politics and public service, building on John’s legacy. I hope to steer it in an exciting new direction, representing it on the international stage and transforming it into one of the UK and the world’s leading think-tanks.

As a result, I will be standing down from the Scottish Parliament in June.

Representing and serving the people of this city for eight years has been an immense privilege and honour. I have had the opportunity to meet so many of the wonderful people who live and work here, and I have proudly fought their corner.

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The part of the job I will miss the most is my regular surgeries, where I spoke to people from every walk of life who needed assistance.

Nothing I have achieved in national politics can compare to helping ­individuals here in Edinburgh transform their lives.

In his final speech, John Smith said: “We will do our best to reward your faith in us.” He was referring to the Labour Party, but it is a message that applies to everyone in political life.

It will be an honour to build on his legacy and inspire his values of public service in a new generation.