Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will be quitting as an MSP this July to take a job at Glasgow University.
Speaking to Scotland Tonight, Dugdale said there’s a lack of faith in democracy and described her mission to “rebuild trust in politics”.
Here is an edited transcript of the interview with STV’s political editor Colin Mackay.
Colin Mackay: How do you feel about leaving the parliament early?
Kezia Dugdale: It’s really sad in lots of ways, but also really exciting. I’ve worked in this building for 12 years, eight years as a politician. I might be stepping back from direct party politics, but I’m going on to do a really good thing, which is to try and help rebuild faith in politics and the political process by leading the work at the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University.
Colin: What’s the John Smith centre? What will you be doing?
Kezia: So this is the 21st anniversary of John Smith’s death and I think it’s a really important time for the centre to establish itself as our leading UK think tank that does research into politics as a force for good. The political process is a force for good, something which is under threat at the minute. So we’ll do research into that and we’ll also provide paid internships to break down the barriers that some people face accessing politics.
Colin: What they say is your mission is to rebuild trust and faith in the political process, which has been discredited and disrespected in recent years.
Kezia: Yes, I think it’s been under a lot of threat from some of the big political events of our times. But democracy is how our country functions and it needs to be healthy and free and people have to have faith in it for it to work in that regard. So I want to be part of rebuilding faith in politics and the political process.
Colin: By leaving politics and the political process?
Kezia: Leaving direct frontline party politics but still being very much in…
Colin: It doesn’t suggest that you have trust and faith in politics in Scotland.
Kezia: Of course I do.
Colin: It doesn’t sound like it, if you’re leaving it.
Kezia: I take a great deal of experience away for me from this building. I’ve led a political party, I’ve led it through four national elections and a referendum, all that real experience I’m taking to academic institution, to a world leading institution like Glasgow University, to study what people think about politics and what we can do to improve faith in the political process.
Colin: You want to encourage young people to have trust and faith in politics by quitting.
Kezia: I’m not quitting.
Colin: You’re cutting the parliament two years early, you quit the leadership after two years. You’re a quitter.
Kezia: I’m a Labour MSP for the Lothian region and I will be replaced by a Labour MSP for the Lothian region. That’s the nature of how the system works. If I was quitting, I would be walking out tomorrow and not looking back over my shoulder. I will be here until mid-July. I’ve got big debates coming up around fostering. I’m going to host the 50th commemoration of the Stonewall riots. I’ve got to stand by my constituents, who I’m trying to help through some very difficult circumstances just now. I’m still going to be holding surgeries right up until the middle of July and then I’ll pass the baton on to another Labour MSP. But I’m leaving to go and do a really good thing, which is to rebuild faith in politics and the political process. I think that’s something that people across all political parties will welcome.
Colin: So you don’t see the irony that you’re leaving frontline politics to try and rebuild faith in politics? You’re trying to persuade young people to have trust and faith in politics by leaving or previously by having cleared off for a month to go to the jungle. Does that make politics more respected?
Kezia: I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Here was a programme watched by millions of people. Many of those people are the exact type of people who don’t trust their politicians anymore or don’t see that their voice can be heard in the political process. I can speak directly to them. They know who I am. They know why I exist to do and I’m taking all that experience of direct frontline politics, as you’ve put it, into a world leading institution, in the name of Glasgow University, to direct the John Smith Centre, which is about having an opportunity to serve your country. So I’m stepping back from frontline party politics, but still very much at the forefront of public service and why that’s a force for good.
Colin: Have you lost trust and faith in politics or is it just in your own party?
Kezia: Neither, Colin, I can see what you’re doing with a question like that.
Colin: I’m just asking you a question. Do you still have trust and faith in Jeremy Corbyn as leader, because you didn’t have when you were leader yourself, did you?
Kezia: I have a huge amount of faith in politics and the political process.
Colin: But do you have trust and faith in Jeremy Corbyn?
Kezia: The reason I’m hesitating with your question is…
Colin: You’re not hesitating; you’re just not answering it. Do you have trust and faith in Jeremy Corbyn?
Kezia: I’m going to be a Labour Party member. I believe in the Labour Party. But in order to do this job properly I have to take a step back from frontline party politics.
Colin: But you haven’t, yet. You’re still an MSP. Do you have trust and faith in Jeremy Corbyn?
Kezia: Of course I do.
Colin: Do you?
Kezia: Yes, I have a real deal of faith in the Labour Party and in Jeremy Corbyn.
Colin: How long have you had trust and faith in Jeremy Corbyn? Because it didn’t feel like that when you were campaigning alongside him in the Scottish Parliament election, when you went from second to third.
Kezia: I think that’s an unfair way to put it. So I have a huge amount of trust and faith in the Labour Party and the people within it. They’re the members who make it what it is. But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be able to offer a critical word or to take a different point of view. I actually consider that healthy, fair and free. The party makes its policy in a democratic way and everybody in it has a part to play in that. So just because I’ve said critical things in the past, doesn’t mean that I’ve lost faith in politics and the political process or indeed in my party. But what I’m saying to you is I’m drawing a line under that now, I will be gone July, and I’m going to help rebuild faith and trust across the political system and I’m really excited about that. The John Smith centre is going to be a leading UK think tank, doing a huge force for good and I get to be a part of that.
Colin: Eight years as an MSP, two of that as Scottish Labour Leader. What’s been your biggest achievement?
Kezia: The thing I’m proudest of is some of the work that you wouldn’t necessarily see as a journalist. To bring on talent in the party, to give people the skills and the confidence that they need to put their name forward, whether that’s to stand as a candidate or to work behind the scenes. There’s a huge amount of repairing that needed to be done after the independence referendum. That’s the job as I understood it when I took on in 2015 and I’m really proud of some of that talent coming and staying. People have been selected the length and breadth of the country. It’s in good health in that regard, I’m proud of that.
Colin: What about regrets? Do you regret going in ‘I’m a Celebrity’, for example?
Kezia: I don’t regret that. No and I’ve said that countless times before. I understand that it was controversial, I understand why some people maybe be can’t forgive me for doing that. But I think it was a huge opportunity to speak to the nation, in that regard, millions of people. And it was just three weeks worth of telly. I think people understand it for that. When I do my supermarket surgeries or I’m out with school groups, people love it. They love to talk about it, it’s a great icebreaker and that is worth it in and of itself.
Colin: Thanks for joining us in Scotland Tonight. And good luck with the new job.
Kezia: Thank you.