The leader of the Scottish Labor Party, Kezia Dugdale, announced that she is backing Owen Smith in the party’s leadership contest as ballot papers began to be sent out to 640,000 members on Monday.
She said that only Smith could unite the divided party and win the next UK general election in 2020.
“Owen understands that to have a chance of implementing Labor values, we need to win over some of those who didn’t vote for us at the last election,” she wrote in her column in the Daily Record.
“I don’t think Jeremy [Corbyn] can unite our party and lead us into government. He cannot appeal to a broad enough section of voters to win an election,” she added. “I believe Owen can.”
She also said that current Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn was unable to appeal to enough voters as he only “speaks to the converted” as opposed to “speaking to the country as a whole”.
Her intervention is significant as many believe that Corbyn could win back alienated voters in Scotland, of whom Dugdale is criticized for losing. She led Scottish Labor into a harsh defeat earlier this year, slipping to third place in Scottish parliamentary elections.
When asked why anyone should listen to her after Labor came third in Scotland, she responded by saying that her defeat makes her intervention even more credible.
“I actually think because we came third in Scotland is actually why people should listen to me,” Dugdale told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
“First and foremost, I know what it takes to run a campaign. I know what the demands of the job are, I know the skills required, I know the discipline that is required.
“That leads me to the conclusion that I think Owen is better placed than Jeremy.
She added: “Reason number two. I know what happens when a party repeatedly refuses to listen to the message that the electorate is saying – when repeatedly it seems out of touch and that is the consequence of what has happened in Scotland, which has led Labor to come third in the most recent Scottish parliamentary elections.”
Her announcement comes a day after Smith received a major boost when Labor’s Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged party members to vote for Smith to replace Corbyn.
It also came a day after Corbyn attracted thousands to a rally North London, where he declared he would “empower people so they don’t have to bow down before the rich and the powerful”.
Although Corbyn is tipped to win the leadership contest, the majority of Labor MPs believe his left-wing politics will repel voters and leave the party with little chance of winning the 2020 general election.
Dugdale called for Corbyn to resign in June after 172-40 Labor MPs passed a motion of no confidence in the leader.
She has been a significant figure in Progress, an organization within the party viewed as pro-business, right-wing and supportive of former Prime Minister Tony’s Blair New Labor vision. She has been a regular contributor to its online magazine. Despite this, she asserts that she supports Smith’s left-wing manifesto.
Smith said he was “incredibly proud” to have Dugdale’s support for his leadership challenge.
“Kezia and I want to see a strong Labor party that can defeat the Tories in Westminster and take the fight to the SNP in Holyrood,” stated Smith. “But that will only be achieved if we can unite our party and demonstrate we have a radical, credible plan to rebuild communities right across the United Kingdom.”
Smith also told Sky News on Monday that there has been a “sea change” in favor of his leadership bid and that he still believed he could beat Corbyn despite his seeming popularity.
He said: “All we’ve seen so far is the evidence of a few rallies. There is a sea change. People are moving towards me because they want us to be a powerful opposition.”
He also pledged to support Corbyn if he is re-elected: “If Jeremy wins, I will absolutely support him from the backbenches. I will always be Labor. There’s not going to be any split that I’m a part of…If Jeremy becomes the leader I will support him through the lobbies.”
Despite the lack of support from the Scottish party leader, a spokesman for Corbyn said most Scottish Labor members would re-elect him.
Corbyn won the backing of the majority of local branches in Scotland. 24 Scottish constituencies declared their support for Corbyn compared to 15 for Smith.
He also won the support of seven leaders of some of Britain’s largest unions, including Len McCluskey, who have written to the Guardian endorsing him as the party leader and calling on their union members to back him. Numerous senior figures in the Labor Party have called on members not to re-elect Corbyn. The party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) changed the contest’s rules in July to forbid 130,000 new Labor members who joined in the last six months to vote, of whom are believed to mostly be Corbyn supporters.
Those who did not join before the six month cut-off point that wished to vote were made to pay £25 within a 48-hour window from 18 July to 20 July.
Corbyn will meet leadership rival Smith for a hustings debate in Glasgow on Thursday before travelling to Dundee and Edinburgh to give speeches.
Although polling does not close until September 21, it could be a crucial week in the leadership contest as many are expected to cast their votes in the next few days.
The outcome of the vote is expected on September 24.