n a decision that has caught the party by surprise, Dugdale wrote to the party’s Scottish executive committee on Tuesday to announce she was standing down with immediate effect.
She told the BBC that Scottish Labour had become revitalised during her two years as leader and strongly denied suggestions she had resigned to avoid conflicts with Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters in Scotland.
Dugdale said the party needed a new leader who had “fresh energy, drive and a new mandate” and who had the “space and time” to prepare for the next Holyrood elections in 2021.
Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Labour leader, said: “I’d like to thank Kezia Dugdale for her work as Scottish Labour leader and the important role she has played in rebuilding the party in Scotland. Kezia became Scottish leader at one of the most difficult times in the history of the Scottish Labour party and the party’s revival is now fully under way, with six new MPs and many more to come. I want to thank Kez for her tireless service to our party and movement, and look forward to campaigning with her in future.”
Nicola Sturgeon, one of Dugdale’s fiercest critics at Holyrood, tweeted her admiration.
Her announcement came only two days after Corbyn finished a high-profile tour of 18 Scottish constituencies, staging rallies across the country often to packed venues, which suggested his leadership and policies had become far more popular among supporters and voters.
Party officials said they accepted that speculation linking that tour with her resignation was inevitable. Dugdale had opposed Corbyn’s leadership bids in both party elections, backing his opponent Owen Smith last year, as did a majority of Scottish party members.
However, Neil Findlay, the most senior Labour MSP associated with Corbyn, said he had “no idea at all” that Dugdale was planning to step down. “It came as a bolt out of the blue to me as well,” he said.
Dugdale had repeatedly insisted after she won the leadership she planned to stay in the post beyond the 2021 election, claiming it would take a number of years to rebuild the Scottish party and restore its popularity.
She told the BBC on Tuesday she believed that task had been completed but appeared to hint that she no longer felt she was the right leader for the party. “I have thought long and hard about this. I care deeply about the Labour party – I love it and I have devoted my adult life to serving it in a number of different capacities,” she said.
“And I have just come to the conclusion that the best thing for it, the Labour party, this precious, precious thing that has done so much good in our country, and indeed for me, is to pass that baton on.”
Dugdale’s personal life has also recently been in the headlines after it emerged in July that she had started a relationship with a Scottish National party MSP, Jenny Gilruth.
Dugdale was also humiliated during the general election campaign when Sturgeon disclosed in a live TV debate that Dugdale had privately told her immediately after the Brexit vote she believed Labour may need to support an independence referendum. The party’s official policy, aggressively pursued by Dugdale in public, was to oppose one.
Party officials insisted that Dugdale has achieved many of her stated goals. Scottish Labour won seven seats at the June general election, against expectations; it now has a guaranteed seat on the party’s UK national executive, autonomy over policy making and control over candidate selection in Scotland.
“She took over in 2015 when we had one MP and the existence of Scottish Labour was in question. The party seemed like an endangered species. We’re now in a place where we are competitive again,” said one official.
Findlay, a leading figure in the Campaign for Socialism, a grouping inside the Scottish party which mirrors the Momentum campaign in English and Welsh regions of Labour, said he had no plans to stand for the leadership.
He fought and lost against Jim Murphy, the former Scottish leader whom Dugdale succeeded after Labour was humiliated by the Scottish National party in the 2015 general election, losing 40 of its 41 seats.
Dugdale’s resignation will lead to the sixth Scottish Labour leadership election since the SNP first won power at Holyrood in 2007. An early favourite for the post will be Anas Sarwar, previously the party’s deputy leader and now party health spokesman at Holyrood.
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