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Kezia Dugdale Says Her Relationship With Corbyn Is "Grand" Despite Disagreements

The Scottish Labour leader told BuzzFeed News: "We are and always have been on good terms."

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Stefan Rousseau / PA WIRE

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale greets newly re-elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during Labour's women's conference in Liverpool on the eve of the Labour party's annual conference.

Kezia Dugdale has insisted her relationship with Jeremy Corbyn is "absolutely grand", despite reports of strong disagreements between the two Labour leaders at this week's party conference.

Speaking to BuzzFeed News after she successfully persuaded Labour members to give more powers to the Scottish party, a triumphant Dugdale said Corbyn would continue to play an important role in Scotland.

It was reported on Monday that she had accused Corbyn of "undermining" her after he and his trade union allies repeatedly attempted to postpone the vote on giving the Scottish party a seat on Labour's ruling body [the NEC] – as well as full power over policy decisions and candidate selection.

Asked if her relationship with Corbyn had been strained by the week in Liverpool, Dugdale said: "I've seen him every day this week. We are and always have been on good terms. We've been staying in the same hotel, on the same floor of the same hotel, we've seen each other at breakfast every day. ...

"So we're absolutely grand in that sense. His wife and my fiancé get on extremely well, so they've been having a great conference."

The Scottish Labour leader said that despite her party now being more autonomous, Corbyn will return to Scotland next week and shadow chancellor John McDonnell is expected to campaign north of the border before the end of the year.

Dugdale said: "You'll still see UK Labour figures in Scotland but you'll also see the Scottish Labour party setting out its own clear agenda and focusing on its priorities.

"Right now that's about stopping the cuts which the SNP are imposing on local communities across the country and making the case for investing in our public services."

Dugdale took her place on the NEC for the first time on Tuesday night, where she cast the deciding vote to block Corbyn's preference of chair for the ruling body.

On Tuesday morning, a furious pro-Corbyn Labour delegate had told the conference that adding Dugdale – along with Welsh Labour members – constituted “gerrymandering” and was a cynical attempt from Labour's more centrist members to make sure Corbyn's majority on the NEC was taken away.

However, the Scottish Labour leader insisted she wasn't taking her place on the NEC to block Corbyn, saying: "I want to be able to do what's right for the Scottish Labour party and to help us rebuild ourselves here, but I'm also utterly committed to having a UK Labour government."

She continued: "That's the only way we can get the Tories out of office. So, for everything I do in the NEC, I'll be guided by the view of a Labour government in mind. This has never been about left or right – it's about standing up for Scotland."

With her seat on the NEC and increased autonomy for her party, Dugdale said the insult used by the SNP that her party was merely a "branch office" of UK Labour could now be put to bed. The insult was coined by former Labour leader Johann Lamont when she resigned over UK Labour's handling of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.

"I think it's unanswerable now that all the decisions that matter about the Scottish Labour party are made in Scotland, so in that sense I think this is a hugely significant achievement," she said.

"Four party leaders have gone in and argued for the things I've argued for and walked out without them and I've managed to do it, so I'm really pleased with that."

Dugdale said however that she would never support full independence for the Scottish Labour party, adding that the only way to "transform the life chances" of children throughout the UK was with a UK Labour government and she wanted her party to be a central part of the effort to achieve that goal.

During the five day conference there have been clear disagreements between pro- and anti-Corbyn members of the party, but Dugdale insisted it could now unite in time for the next general election.

"It can, and it must," she said. "Because only united parties win elections."

Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.

Contact Jamie Ross at jamie.ross@buzzfeed.com.

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