Kezia Dugdale secures new powers for Scottish Labour with NEC seat

Kezia Dugdale prevailed over Jeremy Corbyn and delivered greater autonomy for Scottish Labour in an internal power struggle that has dominated the party conference in Liverpool.

Tuesday, 27th September 2016, 9:53 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th October 2016, 2:00 pm
Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale speaks during the second day of the Labour Party conference in Liverpool. Picture; PA

Ms Dugdale will take up a seat on the party’s national executive after Mr Corbyn’s supporters failed to block plans to admit the Labour leaders in Scotland and Wales.

The Scottish Labour leader will also bring back long-discussed powers over candidate selection, management of constituency parties and policy-making in devolved and reserved areas, delivering reforms aimed at responding to the charge that Scotland is a “branch office” and cannot compete with the SNP in representing Scottish interests.

Ms Dugdale’s presence on the national executive committee (NEC) shifts the balance of power away from Mr Corbyn, who wanted the positions to be elected by party members in Scotland and Wales. Attempts to unseat Labour Party general secretary Iain McNicol or impose mandatory re-selection of sitting MPs are now less likely to pass.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plays the violin during a visit to Faith Primary School in Liverpool. Picture; Stefan Rousseau

Following the announcement of the result, Ms Dugdale said the seat was of such “vital importance” to Scottish Labour that she would fill it herself, and last night took part in her first NEC meeting as a full member.

“These reforms will be the biggest changes we’ve seen to how the Scottish Labour Party is run in a generation, and is the culmination of years of work,” Ms Dugdale said. “I will be a loud and passionate voice for Scotland’s interests within our UK-wide Labour family. This is a key moment in the history of our party, and our movement.”

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, who will name a representative to the NEC from his front bench after taking part in last night’s meeting by telephone, said the changes were “a significant step forward” and would allow Labour to keep pace with devolution in the UK.

Opponents had mounted a last-ditch attempt to wreck the changes yesterday morning, calling for the package of reforms to be broken up in order to vote down the creation of new NEC positions.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plays the violin during a visit to Faith Primary School in Liverpool. Picture; Stefan Rousseau

There were angry scenes as a demand from the TSSA union – for a lengthy card vote on whether the amendments to the Labour constitution should be considered as one package or line-by-line – was refused.

Amid barracking from Mr Corbyn’s supporters, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie took to the floor to warn delegates: “If we put internal politics above the interests of people in Scotland and Wales, we will pay a price.”

Unite, which controls the largest bloc of union delegates at the conference, had already indicated it would abstain if the reforms remained bundled together, making Ms Dugdale’s victory in a final vote yesterday afternoon a formality.

The measures were backed by 80 per cent of Labour delegates, The Scotsman understands. Following the abstention by Unite, 92 per cent of union delegates and 68 per cent of constituency Labour delegates from across the UK backed the reforms.

Last night a senior Labour source claimed Ms Dugdale’s victory “demonstrated the respect” she commands among the wider Labour movement.

“Kezia Dugdale is the leader that has finally delivered on a demand that people in the party have been making for years,” the source said. “She came to Liverpool and stood steadfast against attempts by some to unpick the proposals.

“Nobody else has emerged from this conference in Liverpool with so many victories under their belt.”

Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish secretary, said he was “disappointed” by the way the decision had been made. “We are fully supportive of autonomy for the Scottish Labour Party and have campaigned for it,” he said.

“But having Scottish Labour’s new seat on the NEC appointed by one person doesn’t sit well with our values of democracy, accountability and bringing power closer to people.”