Leonard quits as Scottish Labour leader
Richard Leonard after he was elected Scottish leader of the party in 2017 (pic: Terry Murden)
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has resigned saying speculation around his leadership has become a “distraction” to getting over the party’s message.
He issued a statement just after 4pm saying he had “thought long and hard” over Christmas about Scottish Labour’s response to the Covid crisis.
“I have also considered what the speculation about my leadership does to our ability to get Labour’s message across. This has become a distraction,” he said.
“I have come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party that I step aside as leader of Scottish Labour with immediate effect. This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the Party.”
With an election just over three months away the party will seek to install a new leader to steady the ship. Deputy leader Jackie Baillie has taken over as interim leader but other contenders for the role will include Anas Sarwar, whom Mr Leonard beat in the 2017 contest, and possibly health spokesman Monica Lennon whose free period products legislation has just received Royal assent.
Scottish Executive Committee chairman Cara Hilton announced that the Procedures Committee to oversee the election of a new Scottish Labour leader has now been formed and will hold its first meeting tomorrow (Friday). The committee will meet in the coming days to agree a timetable for electing a successor.
Critics will say Mr Leonard has quit ahead of what could be a humiliating wipe-out at the May Scottish election and a third place behind the Tories.
Ms Baillie said in a statement: “We face the fight of our lives in the run-up to the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. But as we fight for every vote and seat, we will come together to hold the SNP and Tories to account for their record of failure.
Jackie Baillie: ‘we face the fight of our lives’ (pic: Terry Murden)
“I know Richard will continue to work hard to campaign for a Scottish Labour government as an MSP, and as our lead candidate in Central Scotland in the Scottish Parliament elections.”
Yorkshire-born Mr Leonard, whose firebrand style of left wing Labour politics was closely aligned to Jeremy Corbyn, has faced numerous calls to step aside.
The party’s resistance to Scottish independence is regarded as the key reason for former supporters deserting it for the SNP which is now well ahead in the polls and certain to be re-elected in May.
The latest SavantaComRes shows that show that more than one in three voters who supported Labour in 2019 would now vote for the SNP.
A recently bungled statement on the Brexit Bill which Mr Leonard apparently did not sign off was among a number of personal setbacks. He was accused in parliament on a number of occasions of asking questions of the First Minister that had already been answered, or coming at issues from a position he had previously argued against.
It has been revealed that financial support for the party is being withheld because of dissatisfaction with Mr Leonard’s policies, giving weight to claims that he was pushed out, which he denies.
Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, said: “I would like to thank Richard for his service to our party and his unwavering commitment to the values he believes in.
“Richard has led Scottish Labour through one of the most challenging and difficult periods in our country’s history, including a general election and the pandemic.
“Even from opposition he has achieved a considerable amount for which he should be very proud. This includes securing a commitment for the creation of a national care service, securing action on a Jobs Guarantee Scheme to deal with youth unemployment, securing a human-rights based public inquiry into the treatment of care home residents during the COVID pandemic and securing support for a Fair Rents Bill to give new rights to tenants.
“He has done so with dedication to the values of our movement.
“I wish Richard the very best for the future as one of our MSPs and knowthat he will continue to play an important role in Scottish Labour.”
Mr Leonard’s statement:
“Scotland needs a Labour government now more than ever before. Our National Health Service and public services are at breaking point under the strain of an out-of-control pandemic.
“Covid is rampant, claiming lives, and striking down so many of our fellow citizens, who are grievously suffering from this awful virus. Workers’ incomes are being squeezed like never before, with job losses rife and businesses going bust. Too many employees go to work day-in and day-out, night-in and night-out leaving them vulnerable to the virus.
Campaigning for nationalisation of ScotRail (pic: Terry Murden)
“Both Governments have mishandled its response to Covid, with devastating consequences not least in our care homes. It is essential now that we have an accelerated vaccine roll out – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to ensure that the most vulnerable and frontline workers are protected against Covid, and that the general population is given greater protection as quickly as possible after that.
“I have thought long and hard over the Christmas period about what this crisis means, and the approach Scottish Labour takes to help tackle it. I have also considered what the speculation about my leadership does to our ability to get Labour’s message across. This has become a distraction.
“I have come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party that I step aside as leader of Scottish Labour with immediate effect. This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the Party.
“I want to thank all those people who placed their hopes in me, and who worked with me in good times and bad. This experience and the great people I have met will live with me forever. I owe a huge debt in particular to all those party members who work tirelessly for the cause of Labour.
“I retain my faith in the Labour Party as the party that offers hope to people and that remains the only vehicle for the realisation of that hope.
“Whilst I step down from the leadership today, the work goes on, and I will play my constructive part as an MSP in winning support for Labour’s vision of a better future in a democratic economy and a socialist society.”