LAST week’s chaotic events in Aberdeen summed up the impossible situation Kezia Dugdale finds herself in as Scottish Labour leader.

After the local government election, her party Executive ruled that it would possess a veto on any town hall deals proposed by Labour councillors.

A proposal by Aberdeen councillors for a coalition with the Tories was rejected by the Scottish Executive Committee, but the group pushed ahead with the tie-up anyway.

Loading article content

As this snub was a direct challenge to Dugdale’s authority, the nine councillors were suspended from the party and now sit without any central support from Labour.

Let’s be clear: Dugdale was in the right. The Executive is Labour’s democratically elected governing body and its decisions, whether you agree or not, have to be respected. If Dugdale had allowed councillors to ignore an Executive decision, all hell would have broken loose. The will of voters - who cast their ballot for Labour, and self-evidently therefore did not want to see Tories in power - would also have been flouted.

However, the drama has confirmed that Scottish Labour is trapped inside a cage of constitutional politics and does not know how to escape.

As a result of the independence referendum, voters now tend to back the party that best represents their views on the constitution.

For supporters of independence, the SNP is is obvious home; for Unionists, Ruth Davidson’s robust defence of the Union is equally attractive.

Labour, on the other hand, is fired up by social justice and not constitutional politics. The party is struggling to get onto the pitch, far less make an impact in the match.

This tension is also reflected internally in Scottish Labour. Most Labour members have an instinctive loathing of the Tories and are in politics to oppose Conservatism. Doing deals with the Tories does not come naturally.

But the referendum has also created a type of Labour member who dislikes the SNP more than the Tories. Aberdeen’s “Labour” councillors, it would seem, fall into this category.

It is impossible for Dugdale to keep both sides happy. If she blocks Tory deals, she alienates staunch Unionists in her party, such as donor Alan Massie. If she rule out pacts with the SNP, she risks annoying members who do not see the SNP as the devil incarnate.

While her party drowns in quicksand, Dugdale's challenge is to survive the general election and remain in post. If she is still leader after June 8, she will have an opportunity to try and change the conversation in Scottish politics. As was evident last week, it won’t be easy.