Dugdale a "Closet Nat"? Not Likely.

“I was genuinely really sad to read today that Alex Salmond has signalled his intention to sign up Scotland for its own Olympic team. It transpires that he’s not even discussed the plans with his own cabinet, let alone had the opportunity to debate it in the parliament and seek the views of the Scottish people with an open consultation process.

During the election campaign, Tony Blair made a keynote speech at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange to audience of local business men, party members and rather randomly, Scottish members of the British Judo Team. One of my friends took the opportunity to chat to them and find out what they thought about the election. They were first of all, so proud to be part of the British Olympic team. They argued that the high levels of competition to get into the team made them work all the harder and made the result all the sweeter. They’d made great friends and travelled all over Europe together. The[y] had grumbles about the amount of funding their team got and hoped that Scotland would win the bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games so that additional cash came all the faster, but they didn’t want independence.

Winning the 2012 London Olympics was a British success, with tens of thousands of Scots demonstrating their support on the official website. I remember listening to the live result at work - 8 or 9 of us all hoarded around a computer screen struggling to hear the radio. We screamed and jumped with joy at the result. Such a fantastic achievement. I was proud to be British that day, just as I was proud to be Scottish just a few days before when the Make Poverty History march rode through the streets of Edinburgh.

Hosting the Olympics is a success that the whole country should celebrate. It will inspire the youth of today to become the champions of tomorrow and will also unite the whole country in a sense of community and sporting endeavour - I want to be a part of that as a British Citizen.

It’s not the colour of the sporting t-shirt that makes us Scottish, it’s the history, traditions, culture and beliefs that we share. I don’t need Scotland the Brave playing when we win to make me any surer of that fact.”

     This was written on May 24, 2007 by Kezia Dugdale on her personal Facebook page. At around this time, she was a member of the Scottish Labour Party’s policy forum, had recently served as an election agent for Labour politicians Sarah Boyack and Sheila Gilmore, was a Labour researcher at the Scottish Parliament, and would begin service as parliamentary office manager for Labour MSP Lord George Foulkes.

     The parliamentary elections had concluded just weeks before, and after eight years, the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition which had governed Scotland since the beginning of devolution had been dislodged by Alex Salmond’s SNP – with Labour as the largest party in that coalition falling behind the SNP by a solitary seat. A minority administration had been formed under Salmond as first minister, but Salmond was quick to put on a show that there was nothing cautious or minority about him, and among the first things he began talking up was the idea of a Scottish Olympic team separate from British one in time for the 2012 summer games.

     Such an idea was of course, ludicrous, not just because Scotland was (and still is) part of the United Kingdom, but because it came about only two years after the capital city of London had been selected to host the games, which effectively gave home field advanced to Team Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The whole country rejoiced – that is, except for the SNP, whom Hamish Macdonell of the Spectator described as “churlish and grumpy” with regard to their attitude toward the Games from the moment they were awarded to London, and further stated that it “took only one minute for the first snippy SNP press release warning that Scotland might not get its ‘fair share’ from the Games.”

     Now two years later, here was the SNP first minister of Scotland – thinking of nothing but stoking division and creating differences – proposing to break up Team GB at a time when most people were enthusiastically looking forward to a united British effort, including Kezia Dugdale.

     She is now leader of a Scottish Labour Party that has fallen on its knees – having lost a significant chunk of its traditional vote to the (losing) separatist campaign in 2014 and to the (winning) SNP in 2015. In last few weeks, she has come under criticism and even suspicion as she and her party head toward this year’s Scottish Parliament elections for what almost certainly appears to be another shellacking.

     Having already announced that the party is open to accepting members and parliamentarians who voted for independence two years ago, she recently said in an interview that it was not “inconceivable” that she could support separation in a hypothetical scenario where the United Kingdom as a whole voted to terminate its EU membership without a majority of Scots and if Scottish re-entry into the EU did not prove to be a difficult manner or otherwise unfavorable to Scotland. Then last week, it was leaked to the press that Dugdale had attempted to get a job working for an SNP politician whilst she was still a student at the University of Aberdeen in 2003. This, combined with the fact that her father Jeff is an SNP member has given credence to the notion that Dugdale is not strong on keeping the UK together and is perhaps even a “closet Nat.”

     Dugdale may be a lot of things, but I do not believe that she is a closet Nat or anything of that sort because of the influence of her father – who it must be remembered, was a Conservative long before he switched to the SNP, like so many others in the northeast who also abandoned the Tories for the SNP and turned once-loyal Tory bastions in Perthshire, Morayshire, Banffshire, Aberdeenshire, and Angus into the first SNP heartlands of the party’s modern era from the late 1980’s forward (and giving credence to the “Tartan Tory” jibe).

     For that matter, her flirtation with the SNP may have been nothing more than a student trying to get political experience with any party once she graduated from university. How do we know she did not apply for similar positions with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, or Labour? The thing is, we are not supposed to know unless she wants us to know because such records of job applications are supposed to be private, which brings in the question of who leaked this information.

     That aside, it is also a possibility, as said by former Labour MP Tom Harris in the Telegraph, that “like most voters, she was briefly willing to give the other side a chance” before settling on her current party. Indeed, how many people have actually joined one party and stood for election with that party before joining and standing for election in another?

     David Mundell, the Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale, and Tweeddale was a Young Conservative as a teenager before switching to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and serving as a Councillor for Dumfries and Galloway, and then switching back to the Conservatives in 1988. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, the SNP MP for Ochill and South Perthshire, was a Conservative and stood for election in the Glasgow Govan constituency in the first Scottish Parliament election before having a brief stint with Labour and settling with the SNP. And of course, Winston Churchill went from the Conservatives to the Liberals and back to the Conservatives throughout his five decades as an MP. In America, Hillary Clinton was a Republican before she became a Democrat, and Ronald Reagan was vice-versa.

     So switching parties is nothing new, and in Dugdale’s case, it would appear that she has only ever been a member of the Labour Party. In that role and as an MSP, she was a forceful advocate of a No vote during the referendum to keep the UK together, and she has since repeated that Scotland was right to turn down separation because of the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom, which are ever more apparent because of the dramatic collapse of oil prices, and has ruled out another referendum if Labour forms the next Scottish Government. In fact, she made it clear in that interview that she would prefer for Scotland to remain part of the UK and for the UK to retain its EU membership, and implied that if in the event of the UK leaving with EU without a majority of Scottish voters, she would stick with Scotland being part of the UK if she believed the terms of re-entry into the EU were unfavorable for Scotland.

     This may not be the position of a convinced pro-Union person who believes that the UK ought to stay together in all circumstances, but we must remember that the majority of Scots currently do not fit this category and nor are they those who believe in separation in all circumstances. The majority supported keeping the UK together because they believed it was in their best interest and Scotland’s best interest to do so, as well as due to a sense of solidarity – in many forms – with the rest of the UK. Dugdale made this case two years ago because she believed it was the right case, and I believe she will make the case again if need be. After all, unlike Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, her basis for supporting separation depends on very narrow circumstances, and it is likely that in the event of Brexit, keeping the UK together will still be the best option for Scotland.

     All this means that those who wish for the Union to continue in the long-term must continue to put the best arguments forward for the Union to continue, for there will be many people who may reexamine their position from 2014 and decide on whether to retain that position or go the other way should there be another referendum (hopefully not for another 15 years at least). This is where organizations such as Scotland in Union and United Against Separation are going play significant roles in the coming years to ensure that pro-Union arguments are made and disseminated as effectively and convincingly as possible, alongside individual efforts.

     For now though, Dugdale supports the Union and until she actually states otherwise, she should be considered a supporter of the Union, even if this is not her main focus. Indeed, she and other pro-Union politicians and activists must do all they can to focus minds on bread-and-butter issues such as taxation, welfare, education, housing, transportation, health, etc., because the SNP would live nothing more than to keep Scotland perpetually in a pro-Union/anti-Union divide. This divide must be broken up as soon as possible so that debates on the constitution can be replaced with debates that matter to the everyday lives of Scots and all Britons throughout the United Kingdom.

     As for Dugdale, she made it quite clear in 2007 that she was proud to be British and was enthusiastic about Scotland taking an honored place as part of Team GB and sharing in the sporting success with the UK as a whole. As such, she has used the hashtag #BacktheBrits on Twitter when cheering on British athletes on several occasions. Along with many Brits (including Scots), I imagine she will do so again during this year’s summer games in Rio de Janeirio as Team GB, with athletes from all across the UK, competes under the red, white, and blue of the Union Flag once again.