Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The race for the Scottish Labour leadership is between three distinctive personalities

I’ve been a member of the Labour party for more than a decade, and yet, despite the four ‘elected’ leaders we’ve had in Scotland, this is the first leadership contest I’ve had any say in.

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I’ve been a member of the Labour party for more than a decade, and yet, despite the four ‘elected’ leaders we’ve had in Scotland, this is the first leadership contest I’ve had any say in.

To call the circumstances which have led to this contest unfortunate would be a significant understatement, but we are where we are, and as a party, the future is where we need to be focusing our energies.

Three candidates are standing in the contest to be the new leader of Labour in the Scottish parliament: Iain Gray; Cathy Jamieson; and Andy Kerr. Bill Butler and Johann Lamont are contesting the deputy leadership.

All three of the candidates in the leadership have served as ministers in the former Scottish executive.

Iain Gray held the positions of social justice minister and enterprise minister before losing his seat in the 2003 election. During his time away from the Scottish parliament, Gray worked as a special adviser to the Scottish Office, an experience which could help to facilitate more effective working relationships between Labour at Westminster and Holyrood. A former teacher, Iain Gray worked in Mozambique before joining Oxfam as their campaigns manager. Gray is not the flashiest of politicians, he has a reputation for being hardworking, unflappable and unlikely to open his mouth unless he’s sure of his facts. These qualities could serve him well when pitted against Alex Salmond, whose key tactic is to try and wind up opponents in order to distract them, and the electorate, from his government’s dismal performance.

Cathy Jamieson has held the position of deputy leader since 2000, along with the education and then justice portfolios. Before entering parliament in 1999, Jamieson worked as an art therapist and then as a social worker. Although historically on the soft left of the party, Jamieson demonstrated few qualms of conscience during her time in Jack McConnell’s cabinet. Now however, her campaign is centred around a commitment to return to Labour’s ‘traditional values’.

Andy Kerr served as both finance and then health minister in the former Scottish executive. His background is primarily in local government, and politically, he was seen as being very close to former first minister, Jack McConnell. During his time as Health Minister, Kerr preceded over the implementation of the smoking ban, and more problematically for his leadership bid, an incredibly controversial programme of NHS centralisation. As the first member of the Scottish parliament to receive a direct measure from the Procurator Fiscal over his failure to declare hospitality from the fast-food chain, McDonalds, hospitality received while he held the position of health minister, it has been questioned whether Kerr can provide enough of a fresh start for Labour.

This election could be categorised as a three-way contest between modernisers, the old left, and the old right, but this would underplay the distinctive personalities and qualities of the contenders. Gray may be a moderniser, but, particularly during his time as enterprise minister, he demonstrated his ability to work well with the unions and gain their respect. Jamieson may be from the traditional left, but she does have a solid following of a range of party members, relationships which her time as deputy leader has allowed her to build. Kerr may be perceived as a doyen of the old fixer right, but he sports a very natty pair of designer specs.

The outcome of both the leadership and deputy leadership contests will be revealed next month.

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Judith Fisher

co-ordinates Research and Knowledge Exchange for Strathclyde Business School and is standing on Scottish Labour's Glasgow Regional List for the Scottish Parliament. She writes here in a personal capacity.

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