Kezia Dugdale avoids Scottish Labour suspension over I'm a Celebrity trip

Kezia Dugdale MSP

The former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has avoided being suspended by the party after she joined the cast of I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here without its approval.

The Scottish Labour parliamentary group at Holyrood met to discuss her absence hours after Dugdale arrived in Australia to join 11 other contestants in the reality TV show.

In a short statement, the group said it would not take any immediate action against her for flying out without getting formal approval to miss parliamentary sessions and votes. But the statement implied she could yet face some form of sanction.

“In accordance with standard procedure, Kezia Dugdale will be interviewed on her return to parliament and have the opportunity to present her account of events,” the statement said.

Dugdale’s partner, Jenny Gilruth, has defended her decision to appear on the show, saying she had delayed her arrival to try to avoid a clash with the election of her successor as party leader.

Gilruth, a Scottish National party MSP, said those plans were sabotaged by a leak on Friday which meant news of Dugdale’s appearance on the show overshadowed Richard Leonard’s victory in the leadership vote.

Gilruth told the Daily Record that Dugdale, a regional list MSP for the Lothians, had tried hard to avoid that happening and was upset by the impact the leak had had on the party, but also by the vitriolic attacks on her judgment.

“The news that she was to be taking part was leaked many days before it was supposed to be known,” Gilruth said. “Indeed, she’s not even in there. Yet. I know Kez was upset about the way it affected Labour’s leadership result. And I know she was upset by some of the hurtful things written about her. How could she not be?”

The row has also overshadowed a furore over the decision by Alex Salmond, the former SNP leader, to host a regular show on the Russian government-funded channel RT.

The latest season of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!, filmed in New South Wales, Australia, started on Sunday night with 10 contestants. Dugdale is due to appear on set in the next day or two along with the 12th contestant, Iain Lee, a radio DJ.

Dugdale has pledged to donate her MSP’s salary during her time in the jungle and a portion of her appearance fee to a motor neurone disease charity.

The Record, for whom Dugdale is a columnist, reported that she was approached to take part in I’m a Celebrity after she resigned as Scottish Labour leader in August, but turned it down because it would involve her being named as a participant and flying to Australia before her successor had been named.

She was then offered a shorter stint on the show to avoid a direct clash, and she accepted on the understanding there would be no publicity until after the leadership election result.

It is understood from a source close to Dugdale that she told James Kelly, Scottish Labour’s business manager – the equivalent of a chief whip at Westminster – about the offer and sought his permission.

Kelly said he could not give her permission since it was possible he would have been replaced as business manager by the new leader by the time she joined the other contestants. He suggested she seek permission from the two candidates, Leonard and Anas Sarwar.

She told them she had a chance to earn money for charity on a foreign trip, but did not say it was a reality TV show. They said yes, the source said, but based on incomplete information.

While Gilruth and some colleagues defended Dugdale’s decision, arguing she could reach a wider, younger audience than through conventional means and was entitled to have some fun, the SNP has used the row to attack her party.

In her article defending Dugdale, Gilruth accused Labour of lacking perspective. “The Labour party have some challenges to face politically – it would be refreshing if that ‘real change’ started with a bit of human decency,” she said.

Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and first minister, appeared to support Dugdale’s decision on Sunday, tweeting that she was #TeamKez. But on Monday Sturgeon said she would not have been happy if an SNP MSP had done the same, and she lashed out at Labour.

“It’s not something I would want to see an SNP MSP do,” she said. “MSPs are elected to represent their constituents. I think it’s important they do that. I am not sure I entirely understand what Kezia Dugdale thinks she will benefit from this.

“I’m not sure there are many politicians who would choose to do what she is doing. That said, she is in the Scottish Labour party – they appear to be a nest of vipers, so perhaps getting away from that to the jungle, when you see it in that context, it’s easier to understand.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Severin Carrell Scotland editor, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 21st November 2017 15.35 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010