7 must-know facts about Scottish Labour

Public Entrance Scottish Parliament

Following Kezia Dugdale’s surprise resignation, Scottish Labour is electing a new leader. Here are seven facts about the party north of the border.

1. Scottish Labour is electing its ninth leader in twenty years

That’s right, since the dawn of devolution, Scottish Labour has had eight leaders, making the next leader the ninth in two whole decades. Donald Dewar was the party’s first, but tragically died soon after becoming Scotland’s first first minister. Henry McLeish took over, but the “Office-gate” scandal ended his time at the top, leading to the premiership of Jack McConnell, who led the party into the 2003 Scottish election and won. McConnell then stepped down in 2007 after being defeated by the SNP.

Wendy Alexander took over next, but was quickly replaced by Iain Gray, who resigned after defeat in 2011. He was replaced by Johann Lamont, who stepped down after Scotland’s referendum, during which the party was criticised for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories.

MP Jim Murphy was then elected to the party’s top position, but quit after losing his seat at the 2015 general election, following which his deputy Kezia Dugdale took the top job. Her recent resignation is what has triggered the new contest.

2. Scottish Labour backed Owen Smith

Labour’s electorate in Scotland backed Owen Smith to become leader in last year’s leadership challenge. Even voters in Smith’s own Wales did not support him as leader. The Herald reports that out of all votes cast in Scotland, 6,956 were cast for Owen Smith, just ahead of the 6,042 in Jeremy Corbyn’s favour.

This meant that Scotland was the only area in the whole UK to back a change in leadership.

Owen Smith MP

3. Scotland’s Labour prime ministers

Out of the six Labour leaders to have become prime minister, half of them were born in Scotland. The first was Ramsay MacDonald, who was born in Morayshire, and the second and third were Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who were born in Edinburgh and Renfrewshire respectively.

4. Scottish Labour’s election victories

Scottish Labour have been the biggest party at Holyrood following two elections, the first in 1999 and the second in 2003. Both results led to a Lib-Lab coalition.

There have therefore been three Scottish first ministers to have come from Labour: Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish and Jack McConnell.

5. Moving backwards in Holyrood

The party has moved backwards in every single Scottish parliament election since its formation, as shown below:

  • · 1999 – 56 seats
  • · 2003 – 50 seats
  • · 2007 – 46 seats
  • · 2011 – 37 seats
  • · 2016 – 24 seats

The 2016 election was particularly striking as it was the first time Labour was not the largest of second largest party in Holyrood. The result of this was that Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson became leader of the opposition.

6. The dominant party of Scotland since 1959 (until now)

While the UK has ping-ponged back and forth between Labour and Conservative administrations since the end of the Second World War, Scotland has been a Labour stronghold since 1959. Since Harold MacMillan’s election as prime minister that year, the Tories’ fortunes north of the border have been in decline (until recently) and Labour has dominated the county. The party won a majority of all Scottish seats in every election right up until the 2015 SNP landslide victory.

7. The party may be undergoing a resurgence

The snap election's main story north of the border was the SNP’s collapse and the Conservatives’ revival, however, the Labour party made a series of significant gains. The election was the first time the party had been in third place, but it boosted its share of the vote and jumped from one seat to seven.

The task for the Richard Leonard or Anas Sarwar – or whoever next leads the party – is to build on that resurgence and take Scottish Labour back into government.