How we're holding the SNP to account at Holyrood

My week, from First Minister's questions to battling Ruth Davidson – and getting ready for our wedding.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

After months of planning, I decided to end the year with a major speech on the future of our United Kingdom. There was an incredible amount of work involved. It all started in September, when I addressed my shadow cabinet about the constitution. Like most people in the Labour Party, I did not get into politics to talk about the constitution, but Scotland is deeply divided along constitutional lines, and it is important that people understand where Labour stands.

I am proud to have fought in 2014 to save the Union and it always upsets me if people question my commitment to the UK. The Tories’ reckless Brexit gamble has created fresh divisions in our country – precisely the kind of situation the SNP thrives upon.

On the Monday before my speech, I spent most of the day preparing for it. I also attended the Scottish Public Service Awards in Edinburgh. It was a wonderful event. I presented an award there to the charity Who Cares? Scotland. I attend lots of charity events, and am always amazed at the ­level of dedication from all these people, who work so hard to help others.

 

Tuesday

On Tuesdays, I start thinking about First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) – held in the Scottish Parliament every Thursday. All the commentators agree that in recent weeks I have held the failing SNP government to account better than the Tories, so I’m keen to keep up the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon.

When I meet colleagues from Westminster, they are often astonished to learn of the SNP’s disastrous record in government. The Nationalists go on UK-wide TV to pretend they are a progressive force. They are anything but. Occasionally, there is ridiculous talk of a “progressive alliance” between the SNP and Labour in Westminster. This isn’t possible when one of the parties isn’t actually progressive. To give just one example, the SNP won’t use Holyrood’s powers to reintroduce the 50p rate of income tax on those earning £150,000 or more.

 

Wednesday

Earlier this year, I secured reforms that have made Scottish Labour a more autonomous party. As part of that change, I have a seat on the National Executive Committee, so I’m in London a lot more than I used to be.

As my constitutional speech was focused on the future of the entire UK, I chose to deliver it in London. On the Wednesday morning, I was up at the crack of dawn to get to the ITV studios on the South Bank for an appearance on Good Morning Britain with Susanna Reid and Piers Morgan. Susanna was lovely and the make-up team were fantastic, ensuring the bags under my eyes remained covered up for the rest of the day.

In my speech, I called for a people’s constitutional convention for the whole of the UK, proposing a federal solution by which the devolved nations and the regions of England could take more responsibility for what happens in their communities, while safeguarding the national redistribution of wealth. The speech was well received and I was delighted when Alistair Darling – who led the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK – praised it later that day.

 

Thursday

I always start the day with porridge – which I realise makes me sound like a stereotypical Scot! At FMQs I can ask three questions. Recently, I have exposed the SNP’s poor ­record on train services and our growing NHS waiting lists. Holyrood was designed in a horseshoe shape to make it less confrontational than the House of Commons. It doesn’t really work like that, though.

The presiding officer, Ken Macintosh, often has to step in. The Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, promised voters she would be a strong opposition to the SNP but she hasn’t lived up to that promise. Labour, however, has had a number of important victories in Holyrood, including a vote that highlighted hospital closures – which the Nationalists promised would not happen.

The SNP does not have a majority in parliament, so it has to rely on other parties for support. When the budget is passed next year, it will be a major test for the SNP. We believe those with the broadest shoulders should pay their fair share. If the Scottish government doesn’t accept these proposals, and tries to force another austerity budget through Holyrood, we will vote against it.

 

Friday

Fridays are spent holding local surgeries. Every time I do this part of the job, I think about Jo Cox. She was stabbed outside her constituency surgery in West Yorkshire just days before the EU referendum.

I still find it hard to come to terms with her death. But I am proud to be involved in the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, which will bring forward a generation of women who can continue the fight for Labour values.

 

Saturday

I am always humbled by how many of our loyal activists head out every Saturday to campaign for the Labour Party. We’ve had a tough year, with a bruising result in the Scottish parliamentary election and a UK leadership contest that led to internal battles. But hundreds of members still go out to promote our values. They can see at first hand how the SNP’s spending decisions are hurting our vital public services and damaging communities locally.

 

Sunday

I don’t have much time with my partner, Louise, during the working week, so I try to spend Sunday with her. We got engaged in summer and I can’t wait to start thinking about wedding plans. In October, I won an LGBT award for coming out. But the journey for me to do so was made so much easier by those who went before me. Though being out may be new to me, I have long identified as a feminist. In fact, fighting for gender equality is at the very core of who I am, and what defines my politics.

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party and a regional MSP for Lothian

This article appears in the 15 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2016