A FORMER leader of Scottish Labour has claimed the party may scrap free tuition fees in Scotland if it gains power in Holyrood.

During an appearance on The Power Test podcast, Kezia Dugdale said that if Anas Sarwar were to become first minister following the 2026 Holyrood elections, he would “relish the opportunity” to reform public services by potentially scrapping free tuition fees.

“It’s going to be incredibly difficult for whoever comes into office in 2026 because a lot of these very difficult things have been kicked down the road by the current administration in the box marked too difficult,” she said.

“I don’t think that puts Anas off. I think if anything he’ll actually relish the opportunity to do what Labour people do with power, which is to fundamentally reform public services and advance the role of the state in our lives in a meaningful and positive way.

"It’s only really Labour politicians that can do some of that hard stuff at these key moments.

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“Does it want to keep free tuition or does it want to keep free school meals? If you’re talking about tackling poverty and inequality, we all know that the way to prioritise money is in those early years.

“So that, again, makes you look at higher education and tertiary education or what happens in the senior years of school and to ask some fundamental questions about how you redistribute.”

Dugdale also claimed that Scotland had “moved on from the constitution” yet called for further devolution in areas such as employment law.

“I’m not sympathetic to independence, what I want is to rewire Britain,” she said.

“I want to change the voting system, I want greater devolution and I want employment law.

“I want immigration powers. There’s a lot of public policy change that I want which in a hyper-polarised binary debate in Scotland somehow turns me into a nationalist.

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“I want to change the way that the fiscal framework operates in practice so that Scotland grows its economy.

“Scottish politics for a decade was defined by [independence], so your position on wheelie bins was determined by your position on the constitution.

“That has changed now. Yes, support for independence is still consistent around 45%, and sometimes it tips over the 50% mark. But as an issue, it’s fallen way down the rankings. It no longer determines how people vote in the same way that it did before.

“So we’ve moved on from the constitution, but we should be able to have a conversation that is about something other than the status quo.

“Britain isn’t working. Andy Burnham says that and Vaughan Gething says that, and there are people the length and breadth of the UK that want to talk about how we rewire Britain in a different way that represents a modern progressive democracy. You don’t have to be a nationalist to believe in that.”

Dugdale later said she was “incredibly jealous” of Anas Sarwar being “on the cusp of potentially becoming first minister”.

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“I would’ve loved to have that job,” she said.

She added that the SNP would “no longer be able to give out free things in the way that it used to do” now that it was running a minority government.

“This period of being very focused on liberal, progressive, cultural, identity-based issues is going to end with this move from the Bute House agreement to minority government, because they just won’t be able to get some key things through,” she said.

“A SNP minority government will no longer be able to ban things in the way that they used to do. They’ll no longer be able to give out free things in the way that it used to do. And they also won’t be able to do the thing I wish they’d done at some point in the past 17 years, which is some serious reform of public services.

“So this is going to be a government that’s going to have to scale back its ambition. It’s going to have to focus on bread-and-butter issues like the NHS and the economy, and it’s going to have to secure support across the parliamentary chamber to do anything at all.”

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The comments have been condemned by both the SNP and the Scottish Greens

SNP MSP Clare Haughey said: “Senior Labour figures calling for tuition fees to be re-imposed and for the scrapping of Social Security Scotland is deeply concerning – Anas Sarwar must urgently clarify whether this is the position of his party.

“SNP Government policies such as scrapping tuition fees has been a game changer in making sure more young people, especially those from the most deprived areas, can study at university – tuition fees will never return under the SNP.“

"What is even more incredible is the call to scrap Social Security Scotland – a department that under the SNP will lift 100,000 children out of poverty this year.

"The contrast with the cruel DWP couldn’t be clearer. Under the SNP Government the priorities of the people of Scotland, such as tackling child poverty and widening access to education, will always be put first." 

While the education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, Ross Greer MSP, added:

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"Scottish Labour have hinted for some time now that they would reintroduce tuition fees by either the front or back door. We saw that most recently with their finance spokesperson floating the reintroduction of a graduate tax.

"This confirms the clear risk Labour would pose to Scotland’s tuition-free higher education system, which currently sees record numbers of working class young people reaching university.

“Scotland’s public finances are under profound pressure as a result of UK Government cuts and totally inadequate devolved financial powers. Despite that, I am proud that Scottish Greens have delivered progressive tax changes so those who earn the most pay the most, introduced free bus travel for everyone under 22 and delivered anti-poverty measures like the cancellation of all school meal debt held by struggling families.

“In contrast, Labour opposed our increasing taxes on the top 5% of earners to protect public services. If they seriously think they can get away with removing progressive policies which put people and planet first, then they will face a real shock when the people of Scotland reject them at the ballot box.”

A spokesperson for Scottish Labour said: "Kezia Dugdale does not speak for the Scottish Labour Party. Scottish Labour remains committed to free tuition."