Kezia Dugdale’s resignation: a timeline of Scottish Labour leaders

Public Entrance Scottish Parliament

Dugdale’s resignation paves the way for Scottish Labour’s ninth leader in eighteen years.

That’s a rate of one leader every two years.

Johann Lamont MSP became the first official leader of the Scottish Labour Party back in 2011, but this list will also include MSPs who led Scottish Labour in Holyrood before Lamont. Acting leaders are not included.

Scottish Labour’s time in power

Following Labour’s 1999 Scottish parliamentary victory, newly elected Labour MSP Donald Dewar was elected as Scotland’s first ever first minister. Tragically however, his time at the top was cut short when he died in October 2000.

Labour MSP Henry McLeish won the contest to take over from Dewar, but McLeish's time in the top job was also cut short, following the so-called “Officegate” scandal which centred on Dewar failing to declare that he had rented out part of his constituency office.

Dewar was soon replaced by Jack McConnell who became the party’s third leader in Scotland in two and a half years. He also became Scotland’s third first minister in less than three years, signalling a rocky start to the parliament. However, McConnell went on to win the 2003 election and remained first minister right up until the 2007 election when the SNP came to power.

SNP minority government

After the SNP came to power in 2007, McConnell stepped down from his party’s top job and was replaced by Wendy Alexander – this time as leader of the opposition. However, Alexander’s stint as Labour leader came to a quick end in 2008 after she failed to follow the rules on campaign donations, according to the BBC.

A leadership election soon followed, and Iain Gray, who remains an MSP to this day, won with 58% of the vote. Gray led his party from 2008 right up until the aftermath of the 2011 election in which he led the party to defeat, allowing the SNP to win an unprecedented majority at Holyrood.


After Gray’s departure, Johann Lamont saw off Ken MacIntosh and Tom Harris to win the leadership. Lamont’s leadership lasted right up until the month after the Scottish independence referendum, during which Labour were associated with the Tories for their side-by-side stance to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. According to the Guardian, she resigned saying that Scotland was not some branch office of the Westminster Labour party, and that some Labour figures were treating it like that.

First minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond stepped down at around the same time.


The Scottish Labour leadership election of 2014 that followed was a battle between the right of the party, in the form of MP Jim Murphy, and the left of the party, in the shape of Neil Findlay MSP, as well as Sarah Boyack. Murphy won with more than half the vote, but was in the unusual position of leading the party without being in Holyrood. Kezia Dugdale was elected deputy leader and represented the leadership inside the debating chamber.

Murphy’s leadership was then cut short when he lost his Westminster seat in 2015, leaving the Scottish Labour leader without a seat in any political body, let alone in Holyrood.

Murphy soon quit, leading to a leadership contest between Kezia Dugdale and Ken MacIntosh. Dugdale won the leadership and led her party into third place in the 2016 Scottish elections, but made six gains in June’s snap election.

The question now is: who will replace Dugdale? Will it be Richard Leonard? And can they supplant the Conservatives as Scotland’s second party, as they almost did in June, and can they go on to return to governing Scotland?

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