Kezia Dugdale is a name not widely known in London. But it ought to be, because Kezia, or Kez to her friends, is on a mission to almost singlehandedly drag Scottish Labour back from the brink. As the youngest Labour Leader in Scotland ever she promised a new way of working. A moderate, co-operative, centre-left figure, she rose to the top by being more competent and better at delivering than her opponents. But 2016 is not the time for competence and delivery in the Labour Party, it is a time for being bold and experimental. That’s why it is worth looking at her pledge this week that a Labour administration in Scotland would raise income to offset Tory cuts.
The Scottish Parliament has had the ability to vary income tax north of the border since its inception. It’s quite a nuclear button to press but Kez has pressed that button. In England the arms race on income tax has always been who will lower it the most. In Scotland, the debate is now about the right level of tax to pay for public services. The SNP still expect to win another landslide in May, and probably will, but Kez is playing a long game. She knows that May is tough but this is about the election after next and boxing the SNP into defending cuts could pay dividends in the long-term.
Play out the logic: The SNP say they’re against austerity but are cutting budgets left, right and centre. Education has taken a particular beating in Scotland. It’s all the fault of the English Tories they cry. But by moving the debate onto income tax Labour might have played a blinder highlighting the SNP’s faux anti-austerity credentials of what, until recently, was commonly called the party for Tartan Tories. The real Tories in Holyrood are now standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the SNP to stop Labour’s income tax rise. And in that one move Labour has realigned the debate in Scotland, Labour and public service funding versus the cuts of the Nationalists and the Tories.
Of course, when you’re on a hiding to nothing you can afford to be bolder. Kez is a leader with a vision to win, but she knows that the path to power is long and might take her away from her traditional comfort zones politically. England may look on bemused but for those wondering what moderate post-Corbyn politics might look like, Kez Dugdale may be one to watch. In a sense, there isn’t a long way to go in the Scottish elections – the result is already determined.