Iain-GrayIain Gray says Kezia Dugdale is rightly getting plaudits for how she has handled a challenging campaign. Nicola Sturgeon, on the other hand, seems to be on the back foot.


Yesterday saw a couple of interesting articles about Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour leader, and how she is handling the election campaign. One of them appeared in the Scotsman. The other was by Andy Nicoll in the Sun.

They both arose from an event where Kez faced the massed ranks of Scottish political journalists, and they both come to the same conclusion. Nicoll says, “Kez is a class act”, “biting up at the SNP….. blaming Nicola Sturgeon for ‘using Tory arguments for why rich people shouldn’t pay their taxes when the rest of us have to suck it up’”, while Peterkin says “the Scottish Labour leader appears to have plenty of the resilience required to enable members of her profession to thrive in what can be a very dirty job.”

They are right, and I am not surprised.

Journalists often ask me about Kez, because they know I have known her since she joined the Labour Party. I always tell them that Kez is smart, warm, likeable and articulate, because she is. But I also tell them that she is tough and resilient. Since she became Scottish Labour leader I am seen her stand up for herself and take tough decisions on a daily basis.

No one should doubt her strength or resilience.

I know how hard election campaigns are on leaders, and Kez has had a couple of difficult stories to deal with, including the SNP attempt to smear her because she applied to an SNP MSP for work experience years ago when she was a student. It is the way she has handled herself which has impressed commentators like Tom Peterkin and Andy Nicoll.

What of her rival, Nicola Sturgeon, though?

Her campaign has hardly gone to plan. Since the election campaign began Nicola has found herself having to explain why she supported a 50p tax rate a year ago, but now thinks rich people would not like it so has changed her mind.

There was also the message with which the SNP fought election campaigns in 2007 and 2011, “replace the unfair Council Tax”. This time round the SNP leader is having to explain why she has now suddenly decided it is not unfair after all and she is going to keep it and put it up. So far she has failed to do so.

Then she dug herself into a deep hole over the named person policy, trying to pretend it was somehow optional for families, which it is not. That is a hole she is still stuck in, not helped by the Trade Union representing Health Visitors, the very “Named Persons” themselves saying the policy is not being viably implemented.

The SNP leader can hardly have been happy to have spent almost a week facing questions about her dubious deal with China either, a deal she appeared not to want anyone to know about at all. I say facing questions because she has answered none of them, not least about the involvement of Sir Brian Souter or a Chinese company accused of “gross corruption”.

Then there was yesterday, which found her having to deny that one of her Cabinet had leaked confidential emails from a young Kezia Dugdale, an action which would have breached data protection laws.

I do not imagine any of these are what Nicola Sturgeon had planned to be talking about for the first week of the campaign. Still, she has chosen her words carefully for the most part (except on Named Person perhaps).

The same cannot be said of some of her candidates and election agents though. SNP candidate Tony Gugliano had to apologise when remarks he made insulting Scottish War veterans came to light, while an SNP election agent was found to have compared Boris Johnson and David Cameron to the Moors murderers. More embarrassment for the SNP and their leader.

When an election campaign is blown off course like this, the best advice for leaders is to try and get back to your core message.

That is exactly what Kezia has done. Scottish Labour’s core message is that we will use the powers of the Scottish parliament to end austerity cuts and invest in the future of Scotland. Above all we will protect education budgets, close the attainment gap in our schools and ensure that every child has the best possible future. Or, as Kez would say, “Kids not Cuts”.

As for the SNP, I confess I do not know what their key message is meant to be, and, as the days go by, it rather looks as if Nicola Sturgeon does not know either.