Maybe it’s just because we’ve grown so accustomed to venality and corruption within the British parties, but there’s a distinct sense here of Kezia Dugdale being bought off. One needn’t be hugely cynical to wonder what leverage Dugdale has that could win her a “plum job” on the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) so soon after being reprimanded by the British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) office manager for skiving off work to cash in on whatever celebrity status is associated with being a former BLiS office manager.
How likely is it that Dugdale was her new boss’s first choice for the job? Was there really nobody else he could have picked? Is the dearth of talent among BLiS MSP’s so severe that no other suitable nominee could be found? The imperative of working towards gender balance pretty much limited his options to female candidates. But that gave him eleven names to choose from. Even if he wanted to give the job to someone who had held a leadership role in BLiS, the rate of attrition in this area makes it almost a statistical certainty that there will at least a couple of people who would fit the bill.
What might have made Richard Leonard overlook senior figures such as Johann Lamont and Jackie Baillie in favour of Kezia Dugdale? Is she particularly qualified in some way? Does her stint on ‘I’m Pathetic… Point A Camera At Me!’ make her the ideal person to sit on the body responsible for ensuring that the Parliament is provided with the property, staff and services it requires? It surely can’t be her record as leaderette of the pretendy wee party that gets her on the short-list. Or, for that matter, the long list.
I believe Ms Dugdale to be a thoroughly nice person. But it is difficult to make a persuasive case for her possessing any qualities or capacities that would make her the obvious choice for the job. The fact that she once held the title of ‘Scottish Labour Leader’ doesn’t help at all in this regard. And her past conduct rules out the notion of her being offered a sinecure as some kind of reward.
We might also wonder why Kezia Dugdale would want the job. While serving on the SPCB affords a certain status within the Holyrood bubble, it’s an administrative rather than a political role with precious little in the way of public profile. But this may, in fact be the whole point.
Dugdale has the potential to be a bit of a problem for Richard Leonard and his bosses in London. Her commitment to the Unionist line on the constitution has never seemed quite as rigid as the British parties require. There was always something a bit affected about her British Nationalism. While she shared the bitter resentment of the SNP that afflicts BLiS, the rhetoric frequently seemed more dutiful than heartfelt. And I’m not sure she was happy about being relegated to the status of handmaiden as the media crowned Ruth Davidson Queen of the BritNats and faux First Minister.
Freed of the constraints of seniority, there was a distinct possibility that Kezia Dugdale might stray from the party line – if not on the issue of independence then perhaps on the matter of a new referendum. It’s easy to see why Richard Leonard might want to try to keep Kezia sweet. One of his MSPs moving even slightly away from fervent opposition to a fresh vote on independence would be a huge embarrassment for Leonard, and for earn him the wrath and loathing of his masters in London.
What about Kezia’s motives? Well, if she intends to continue her political career then she had to do something to improve her standing. She had to rehabilitate her image following her rather precipitous fall from grace. There was clearly no possibility of her getting any kind of significant role within the BLiS group at Holyrood. The disgraceful way she was snubbed and shunned by her colleagues on her return to the chamber suggests it may be some time before she is forgiven her trespasses. Although it may just have been that her breath still carried the pungent odour of ostrich anus and bull pizzle.
If Richard Leonard was trying to keep Kezia on-side by giving her the SPCB job, how sure can he be that his ploy will work? It is doubtful that there is any formal agreement which might prevent her speaking out on any topic. It’s easy enough to imagine that Leonard has misjudged Dugdale and mishandled the situation. It may be more than mischievous speculation to suppose that Kezia Dugdale has a long-term plan – and that appointment to the SPCB serves her purposes. It is not entirely unreasonable to suppose that, having read the runes, she is positioning herself in readiness for what looks like being a year of intense drama in Scottish politics.
I don’t think Kezia Dugdale is quite ready to fade into obscurity. I very much doubt that Richard Leonard has the nous to thwart whatever ambitions she may have. If she has looked at the way things are going and seen some opportunity, then we may be hearing more from Kezia Dugdale in 2018.
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