FORMER Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale is warning that her successor will have to walk a tightrope between backing Jeremy Corbyn’s agenda and insisting on the party’s Scottish identity north of the border.
And she issued an appeal for unity once the outcome of the internal party election is announced today.
The Lothian MSP stepped down at the end of August, sparking a contest between Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar and former deputy leader and Central Scotland MSP and trade unionist Richard Leonard to take over the helm.
The result of the vote was being revealed in Glasgow this morning.
Ms Dugdale told the Evening News: “The toughest task the new leader has is to unite the party after a bitter and personal campaign.
“The winner also has to do this whilst walking a tightrope between supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘For the Many’ vision and maintaining a clear Scottish Labour identity.
“We will continue to fail the people who need Labour most if we don’t prove to the public that we’ve learnt the lessons of the 2014 referendum.
“I wish the new leader well and they will have my full support.”
Ms Dugdale stood down after two years in the post which saw her fight three elections and the EU referendum. Labour fell to third place at Holyrood, but then won more seats than expected at this year’s general election.
Announcing her departure on August 29, she said it was time to “pass on the baton” and a new leader was needed with “fresh energy, drive and a new mandate”.
Potential candidates such as Lothian MSP Neil Findlay, deputy leader Alex Rowley, rising star Monica Lennon and senior MSPs Jackie Baillie, Pauline McNeill and James Kelly all ruled themselves out.
During the contest Mr Sarwar came under fire over his personal wealth, the decision to send his children to a private school and the failure of his family’s business to recognise unions or pay the real living wage.
Mr Sarwar accused Mr Leonard of siding with the Tories because he voted in favour of triggering Article 50 in a Holyrood Brexit debate earlier this year.
And his supporters suggested if Mr Leonard became leader, the Scottish party could once again become a “branch office” due to his support for Mr Corbyn.
At a hustings event for party members in Edinburgh the two men clashed on universal benefits.
Mr Sarwar said he wanted to go beyond Labour’s existing plans to increase child benefit by £5 a week and introduce a Scottish Child Tax Credit, with £10 payments targeted at the poorest youngsters.
But Mr Leonard said child benefit should on principle be a universal payment.
Mr Leonard has been the bookies’ favourite but both campaigns predicted a close finish in the ballot.
Voting opened on October 27 and closed at noon yesterday. Party members, affiliated supporters like trade unionists and registered supporters who paid a one-off £12 fee by October 9 were all entitled to take part.