Labour refused Dugdale I’m A Celebrity permission, says new Scottish leader

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Labour party bosses refused Kezia Dugdale permission to take part in the reality TV show I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!, the new Scottish Labour leader said.

Richard Leonard, who was elected to the top job on Saturday, said his predecessor had sought permission from Labour leaders before heading to the Australian jungle.

But he added his understanding was that the party had not agreed to it.

Labour MSPs at Holyrood will now have to consider if the former leader, who dramatically quit the job in August, should be suspended or not.

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has already said that this would not be appropriate, arguing it was Ms Dugdale’s choice to take part in the TV programme, which also includes boxer Amir Khan, Boris Johnson’s father Stanley and The Saturdays’ singer Vanessa White.

But Mr Leonard made clear that the party in Scotland would consider imposing such a sanction.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: ” I’ve said over the weekend that we need to consider it and I’ve also expressed my own personal disappointment that that was a decision she has chosen to make.

“There are issues, not just the fact that she is there and the kind of programme it is and people’s view of that, there is also a question about whether she got permission to do it.”

Pressed on whether Ms Dugdale had been given the party’s backing to take part in the show, he stated: ” My understanding is she sought permission and wasn’t given permission.”

Mr Leonard added: “T here is going to need to be a proper discussion about it, the circumstances around it and whether it is appropriate to take action or not.

“I am not persuaded the immediate step that the Labour Party needs to take is to suspend Kezia from membership of the Labour Party but I do think we need to have a discussion about it.”

Ms Dugdale remains an MSP for the Lothians region, and her decision to take part in the programme prompted an angry reaction from many within the party

Fellow Labour MSP Neil Findlay described the move as “utterly ludicrous”.

He said: ”We have a situation where we’re in the run-up to the budget in Scotland, where local government is on its knees, where the NHS is showing pressures like never before, when people’s living standards are falling and they expect their MPs, MSPs, councillors, elected representatives, to be in fighting on their behalf and I don’t think people would expect them to jet off around the world and sit around the camp fire eating a kangaroo’s appendage.

”I think it demeans politics when people get involved in that.”

But Ms Dugdale’s partner, the SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth, claimed the former Labour leader was being bullied by some of those in the party.

Ms Gilruth said on Twitter: ” I see @scottishlabour have developed their own unique take on the final day of #AntiBullyingWeek. Huge props, comrades! #TeamKez.”

Mr Leonard said: ” There was certainly a strong reaction on social media when the news broke on Saturday morning and feelings are running high about it, there’s no question about it.”

Asked about Ms Dugdale’s participation in the programme, Nicola Sturgeon said: “It’s not something I would want to see an SNP MSP do.

“MSPs are elected to represent their constituents. I think it’s important they do that.”

The First Minister continued: “I am not sure I entirely understand what Kezia Dugdale thinks she will benefit from this.

“I am also not clear what her motivation might be. It’s not a decision I would take. I’m not sure there are many politicians who would choose to do what she is doing.

“That said, she is in the Scottish Labour Party – they appear to be a nest of vipers, so perhaps getting away from that to the jungle, when you see it in that context, it’s easier to understand.”

She added: “She’s decided to do it, so you know what, good luck to her.”

A source close to Ms Dugdale confirmed she had asked Labour’s Holyrood business manager James Kelly for permission to go, but this was refused as the leadership election was going on at the time, and the winning candidate could appoint a new business manager.

It is understood that Ms Dugdale then approached both leadership candidates, Mr Leonard and Anas Sarwar, to ask if she could go away for three weeks.

Both men agreed to this, the source said, although the former Scottish Labour leader did not explain to them that she would be going on the reality TV show.

The source said: “Kez turned down initial requests for her to go away to Australia for five weeks, but accepted the offer to appear on the show when it was reduced to just three weeks, with a guarantee she would be back for the budget.”

They added: “She believes this is a unique opportunity to speak to millions of viewers every night about Labour values in a way you can never do from the Holyrood chamber.

“She’ll also be donating her salary to a charity while she is away and a portion of her appearance fee.

“She understands why some people are disappointed but once people get over the initial shock she will find huge support from the public as the only Scot on the show and she’ll be back in just three weeks – and will get straight back down to work for the people of the Lothians.”