So, not for the first time in my life, it seems that someone forgot to send me the memo.
I’ve watched with increasing bemusement over the last few days as senior SNP figures, including Nicola Sturgeon herself, have queued up on social media to back the inexplicable decision of their erstwhile Labour opponent Kezia Dugdale to join the line-up of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! One SNP member of the Scottish Parliament even suggested that all Scottish political parties should be observing an Olympic-style truce over the coming weeks as we unite behind “our girl” in her vital quest to be crowned Queen of the Jungle.
If you think that’s a slightly peculiar thing to say in the circumstances, I’d find it hard to disagree. The obvious suspicion is that the SNP have made a tactical call to refrain from the condemnations of Ms Dugdale that the situation would normally warrant. Probably the intention is to throw into sharpest possible relief the downright nasty personal attacks that are being made on Ms Dugdale by her own Labour colleagues, as her entry into the world of trashy reality TV gives them the golden excuse they’ve clearly been yearning for to say what they really think about a woman who was still their leader a mere three months ago.
Some of the swiftest and most vicious reactions came from people who were not even previously known to be among the ranks of her internal critics. The SNP perhaps can’t be blamed for being in no great hurry to interrupt their oldest enemy as it enthusiastically washes its dirty linen in public.
Apologies in advance to my own party, then, if what I’m about to say departs from a brilliant strategy, but I can’t quite find it within me to join #TeamKez. It may very well be entirely reasonable for a former politician with time on her hands to let her hair down in any way she chooses. But here’s the thing – Ms Dugdale is not a former politician with time on her hands. She remains a sitting member of the Scottish Parliament, elected to represent the people of Lothian until May 2021.
The three weeks she’ll be spending in Australia (public votes permitting) amount to more than 1% of her entire five-year term of office. It might not have been so bad if she was appearing in a programme like Strictly Come Dancing, which to some extent would allow her to juggle her parliamentary duties with her evident thirst for celebrity. But in ‘The Jungle’ she’ll be entirely uncontactable by those she represents, and she’ll be completely unavailable to take part in parliamentary debates or votes. To all intents and purposes, for the duration of her stay there will be one fewer member of the Scottish Parliament, and the people of Lothian will have one fewer representative. Donating a portion of her salary to charity does not make up for that abdication of democratic responsibility – indeed it misses the whole point spectacularly.
And however disgraceful some of the vitriol from prominent Labour figures has been, it’s phenomenally tough to construct a case that Ms Dugdale hasn’t let her party down badly. Even if she had been minded to take up a TV offer, the exact timing ought to have been enough to dissuade her in this case, because the news of her decision broke just hours before the identity of her successor as Scottish Labour leader was revealed – ensuring that Richard Leonard was on the back foot from the outset. It looked for all the world as if Ms Dugdale was either deliberately sabotaging Mr Leonard’s big day, or simply didn’t care about the harm she was causing him. That makes a mockery of her supporters’ indignant claims that her own leadership was destroyed by disloyalty.
It’s also been disclosed that she sought permission from the party to take part in the programme, and was refused. In all good conscience, that should have left her with only three options – to say no to I’m a Celebrity, to resign as an MSP, or to leave the Labour party. Attempting to remain a Labour MSP while doing the show was an act of astonishing arrogance, especially when viewed in the light of statements she has made about party discipline both as leader and as ex-leader. It’s not so long ago that she ruthlessly suspended the entire Labour group on Aberdeen city council for disobeying an instruction not to go into coalition with the Conservatives. Earlier this month, she declared that if she had still been leader she would have immediately suspended her deputy Alex Rowley because of allegations made against him – and yet by then she must already have known that she was about to act in a way that would more than justify her own suspension. Most damaging is the fact that, at a stroke, she has deprived her party of any right to lecture the SNP about “getting on with the day job” ever again.
Rationally, the only explanation that fits is that she was trying to leave the Labour party, while allowing others to formally make the decision. Her presumably bogus stated reason for going to Australia would support that theory – surely no-one can be naïve enough to think there will be any opportunity on I’m a Celebrity to earnestly spread the gospel of “Labour values”? Even if she does manage to audibly mutter the words “for the many, not the few” while munching on creepy-crawlies, she’ll only succeed in making herself a laughing-stock.
But if constructive resignation from Labour was the plan, it’s backfired hideously. Courtesy of an intervention by Jeremy Corbyn, she will not be suspended – or at least not until she is given a chance to explain herself after her return, and by then the moment will have passed.
Amusingly, it appears the penalty these days for breaching Scottish Labour discipline is to remain inside the Scottish Labour party. And that is indeed a cruel and unusual punishment.
James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.
James has also written for us about the tyranny of Theresa May, the madness of King Trump, the crisis created by the Brexit legal challenge and why Scottish Labour care more about Corbyn than their country.