Dugdale’s TV odyssey may help her boss in the Labour jungle

The Herald, by Kevin McKenna

On those sovereign nights when you arrive home slightly sparkled and full of good cheer you occasionally find yourself becoming curiously transfixed by the aphorisms and apercus of the jungle denizens of I’m a Celebrity. Alcohol seems to act like a tourniquet on your critical faculties, cutting off all sense of proportion and subjective analysis. In such addled moments these feckless celebrities are revealed as cultural seers and you reproach yourself for not having paid closer attention to their work before they entered the jungle.

Occasionally you entertain yourself by fantasising what it might be like if they located I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in one of Scotland’s wild places. One of the tasks could be the Midgie Challenge which would entail jouking up a Munro in the middle of the summer with your hair smeared with honey. Another could be called the Highland Hospitality Challenge in which a group of you descend on a café somewhere beyond the hills at one minute past two o’clock in the afternoon and try to persuade the owner to serve you food. Yet another might be called the Grouse Challenge in which the purpose of the exercise is to locate a Highland shooting party and then try to denude these indolent toffs of their kills and bring them back to the camp for a tasty tea.

Sometimes you might even imagine yourself as a participant on I’m a Celebrity dispensing solid Scottish solutions in a couthy way to the emotional crises that your camp-mates all seem to be enduring.

Being a kind and generous sort of chiel I’ve been trying very hard to cast our very own Kezia Dugdale’s participation in the current series in a positive light. Until a few short months ago Ms Dugdale was the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and was to be observed every week deploring the Scottish Government’s record on health and inveighing solemnly about continuing inequality in our education system. Now here she is scrabbling around for food on her hands and knees amidst reptiles and small invertebrates. And when she’s done with that she must face the even more onerous task of resisting the temptation to laugh or scream when some semi-literate D-lister starts to “talk abaat Brexit”.

I’m sympathetic to Ms Dugdale’s assertion that during her three-week stay in the camp she will have a golden opportunity to disseminate some good, Socialist values amongst her new jungle chums. And that in doing so she will be able to reach the millions watching. My only problem with this is that it will most probably take her a full three weeks merely to introduce the word “Socialism” and to explain what it means. I feel there may be a limit to her effectiveness in completing this mission.

I suspect too that her stated desire to spread the gospel of Socialism may not have been the principal one in forming her decision to join I’m a Celebrity. Perhaps she saw this as well-earned respite from trying to lead this Mafiosi outfit. The reaction from within her own party to the news of her participation hinted strongly at something poisonous and malevolent in that body. Certainly, some of her colleagues might have been entitled to have expressed a degree of disappointment at her decision. Others might reasonably have felt that Ms Dugdale’s judgment was lacking.

The shrill invective that greeted the news went well beyond valid criticism. This was something else entirely and was deeply unpleasant to behold. If Ms Dugdale had announced she was giving up all her Socialist principles to take a seat in the House of Lords and accept a directorship of a multi-national financial corporation specialising in advising rich people how to “protect” their fortunes she wouldn’t have got a worse reception. Curiously, that has been the chosen post-political career path of some of Scottish Labour’s mightiest grandees. Not for the first time the attitude of those inside the Scottish Labour bubble is entirely at odds with that of the wider public very few of whom care not a jot about Ms Dugdale’s mini-career break.

Anas Sarwar, the losing contender in the contest to succeed Ms Dugdale as leader, seemed to lose all sense of proportion in his reaction to his colleague’s jungle jaunt. “Now she has made that decision I want us to have that phone bank running to make sure that she eats every bug possible, is in the pit with the rats as much as possible, so she fully enjoys that experience and is raring to go when she comes back. It’s not the choice I would have made.” Other choices Mr Sarwar has made as a Socialist include sending his children to one of the most expensive fee-paying schools in Scotland and taking dividends from the family firm that chooses not to pay all of its workers the National Living Wage.

The bitterness of her colleagues’ reaction was characteristic of the contest between Mr Sarwar and Richard Leonard to succeed Ms Dugdale as leader. Mr Leonard won that contest and he could reasonably have been expected to have been more upset than most at his moment of triumph being overshadowed by the I’m a Celebrity circus. His response, though, was a proportionate and mature one and he has since adroitly moved to ensure there will be no question of Ms Dugdale being subject to any disciplinary process.

In any case he has a gargantuan task ahead of him. There is indeed something poisonous in Scottish Labour, with junior MSPs talking openly of a total absence of anything resembling a support structure at Holyrood in a party still dominated largely by a domineering male clique. There remains a macho, 1970s-era beer and sandwiches atmosphere at the top of the party which needs to be cast out. It’s underpinned by an obsessive and almost psychotic hatred of anything that smells of Scottish nationalism. It has repelled potential recruits and intimidated younger MSPs.

Mr Leonard needs to stamp his authority on this nest of vipers quickly; he could do worse than utilise Ms Dugdale’s recent experiences among serpents by giving her a senior position in his shadow cabinet on her return to the real jungle.