Richard Leonard faces unrest within Scottish Labour

Richard Leonard
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party since 2017 but recent polling woes have left his position unstable (Source: Scottish Parliament, via. Wikimedia Commons).

UPDATE: On Sunday 12 September at 1pm the motion of no confidence against Mr Leonard was withdrawn from the Scottish Executive Committee.

By Hallum Cowell | Deputy Editor

The Scottish Labour Party is currently embroiled in infighting as some Members of Scottish Parliament and party members call for the party’s leader, Richard Leonard, to resign. 

Leonard became leader of Scottish Labour in 2017, following the resignation of Kezia Dugdale. 

Scottish Labour’s latest leader is firmly on the left side of the Labour Party. A firm ally of former leader Jeremy Corbyn, Leonard described himself as a “socialist, democrat and internationalist” during the 2019 election. 

Leonard is also against the formation of an independent Scotland, a hot button issue in the country. 

 Scottish Labour: a party in decline?

Scottish Labour have seen a consistent drop in their popularity since 2018 as the SNP continues to consolidate their hold on the Scottish voting base. 

As of August 13, the party was polling at 15.2% of the vote, with a projected loss of five seats at Holyrood. This remains a far cry from the heights of early 2018, shortly after Leonard’s ascension to leadership, which saw the party winning 24% of the vote share.

While almost every party in Scotland has seen a fall in their vote share as the SNP continues to climb, Scottish Labour appear to have suffered the worst of this. 

This is likely due to the similar political leanings between the two parties, the main point of divergence between them being their opinions on Scottish independence.

Recent polling shows 51% of the Scottish population in favour of independence from the UK, a lead of 9%. 

The prospect of poor performance at the polls is what has led to demands for Richard Leonard’s removal as party leader.  

The first shots

The starting pistol for the unrest was fired on September 1 as James Kelly resigned from the Scottish Labour frontbench. Mr Kelly had previously been the party’s spokesperson for Justice, calling on Leonard to also resign. 

In a tweet Kelly said, “I sincerely believe that if we are to reverse our fortunes Richard must step down.”

In response, Leonard did not resign and said “it is deeply disappointing that disgruntled MSPs who never supported my leadership would choose the day when the Scottish government finally accepted a Labour policy demand of ten years – for a National Care service – to try and wage an internal war.” 

The incumbent leader affirmed that he would be “leading Scottish Labour into the 2021 elections”.

Gearing up for a showdown

On September 11, a motion was submitted to the party’s Scottish Executive committee (SEC) expressing a desire for a vote of no confidence in Richard Leonard. It is understood that a third of the SEC therefore, a full committee will vote on the issue.

The committee contains elected representatives, trade union officials and members of the SLP’s grassroots membership.

Mr Leonard commented on the motion claiming that a number of SEC members who signed off on the motion were “not mandated by their organisation to vote in that way” and that the attempt to remove him from the leadership position was “entirely factional”.

Those looking to depose the SLP’s leader have claimed that party is facing a “disaster” at the upcoming Scottish election in May 2021.

With the campaign for the Scottish elections gearing up, it is unclear whether Mr Leonard can maintain his position as leader of the SLP.

It is certain, however, that he intends to remain at the helm for as long as he is able.

Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.

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