Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
30 August 2017updated 31 Aug 2017 9:15am

Who will succeed Kezia Dugdale as Scottish Labour leader? The runners and riders

Two of Jeremy Corbyn's allies north of the border seem unlikely to stand. 

By Julia Rampen

Kezia Dugdale’s resignation as Scottish Labour leader opens up a vacuum at the top of the party in Holyrood.

Neil Findlay, a Corbyn ally, has publicly ruled himself out. Alex Rowley, a Corbyn-friendly MSP with a long connection to Gordon Brown, is already in pole position as deputy leader, but is said to have decided not to stand.

So who will take over, and can they prevent Scottish Labour returning to being a party branch shop?

Anas Sarwar

In 2014, the then-Glasgow Central MP was so excited at the prospect of ascending the ranks of the Scottish Labour party that he… quit as deputy leader. He remained interim leader until Jim Murphy was elected, with Kezia Dugdale as his deputy.

In fact, there was a reason for Sarwar’s reticence – he was an MP rather than an MSP. The bloodbath of 2015 sorted that problem. He lost his Westminster seat, but clambered back into politics in the Scottish Parliament elections of 2016. “He’s got a solid bedrock in Glasgow,” one Labour insider said. “Anas is the kind of guy who won’t sit back and live an easy life. I think he’ll be putting things in place.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Viewed as a moderate, who signed a letter calling on Corbyn to reconsider his position after the Brexit vote, Sarwar has nevertheless recently been singing Jeremy Corbyn’s praises, and his election would be a significant boost for the representation of ethnic minorities in Scottish politics. At the same time, he might have to revisit his explanation for why he sends his son to a private school.

Content from our partners
How to create a responsible form of “buy now, pay later”
“Unions are helping improve conditions for drivers like me”
Transport is the core of levelling up

Richard Leonard

Leonard only became an MSP in the 2016 Holyrood elections, but as a former GMB union organiser and onetime Tony Benn chauffeur, he is a Labour veteran. His intellectual credentials include being a member of the Red Paper Collective, and his political interests include workers’ rights and combatting austerity.

Seen as an ally of the Corbyn team, Leonard recently appeared alongside shadow Chancellor John McDonnell at a conference in Scotland. Along with Rowley and Findlay, he signed a letter in support of Corbyn during the post-Brexit revolt.

According to a Labour source, Leonard is “very nice and very able”, but might not fancy a job that has exhausted three leaders in six years.

Monica Lennon

Those Scottish Labour members worried about the spectre of yet another senior Labour position joining the Middle Aged White Man Club may be tempted to flock behind Monica Lennon, who became an MSP in 2016.

A former councillor and planning officer, Lennon has gained prominence as a campaigner against period poverty. She is an ally of Dugdale, but also welcomed Corbyn’s recent visit and crucially did not sign the open letter against him. A Labour insider described her as a “dark horse” but unlikely to beat Sarwar.

Jackie Baillie

A Holyrood veteran (she was first elected in 1999), Baillie helped to support the leadership through the turbulent months of 2014, but ruled herself out of a leadership bid. Like Sarwar, she publicly called on Corbyn to reconsider his position after the Brexit vote. As the MSP for Dumbarton, the Faslane naval base is in her constituency and she has backed the renewal of the Trident nuclear system.

Baillie is seen as a competent politician, who has nevertheless made enemies during her career, and is unlikely to triumph in the current political environment.

James Kelly

A veteran MSP, Kelly is famed for being booted out of the Holyrood debating chamber after refusing to sit down. He is part of the Scottish Labour shadow cabinet, and was singled out for praise by Dugdale in her resignation letter.

Kelly signed the letter calling on Corbyn to reconsider his position, but today he is an enthusiastic retweeter of pro-Corbyn media. Nevertheless, he is seen as a polarising figure even outside Labour’s internal politics, due to his campaign to repeal the anti-bigotry Football Law and his robust attacks on the SNP.

Jenny Marra

The MSP for North East Scotland has been touted as a future star, and has been floated as a possible candidate, although she has been less high profile over the last year. 

All the same, having avoided the biggest clashes of 2016, she may be able to use that to her advantage.

Elaine Smith

Should a candidate with suitable Corbynite credentials fail to stand, Smith may suddenly come to the fore as a voice of the left.

A Labour source said: “She might throw her hat into the ring, the way that back in the day, Corbyn and John McDonnell used to, thinking they wouldn’t win. Only in her case, she definitely won’t win.”