Where Next for Labour in Scotland?

7th Sep.
BTP Advisers

Kezia Dugdale’s resignation has led to a fascinating ideological contest for leadership of Scottish Labour, pitting together the Corbynite Richard Leonard against the more moderate Anas Sarwar.

2 Mins (501 Words)

The surprise resignation of Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale has brought a leadership contest soon after the moderate gains seen in the 2017 General Election. Dugdale said the party needed someone who has “fresh energy, drive and a new mandate” in preparation for the next Scottish elections in 2021.

Dugdale’s resignation came as Jeremy Corbyn toured 18 Scottish constituencies, attending packed rallies across the country. This suggests that his leadership has brought a renewed belief to Scottish Labour which was badly defeated by SNP in the 2015 General Election. This pressure may have contributed to Dugdale’s resignation as she did not support Corbyn’s leadership in both party elections.

Two MSPs have confirmed their bid for the leadership: former deputy leader Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard, a former trade union organiser. Other possible candidates, notably Neil Findlay and Alex Rowley, have indicated that they will not stand. Party sources suggest that Sarwar will get the majority of nominations from the party’s MPs and MSPs whereas Leonard seems likely to garner the support of all the major trade unions.

Mr Leonard, who is a member of the Campaign for Socialism, has stated that he will stand for more radical polices in an attempt to emulate the success of Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership.

Mr Sarwar has aimed to reassure left wing activists that he is not opposed to Corbyn, stating that Scotland “needs a united Labour party across the UK working together to elect Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.” While pro-Corbyn support has been growing in Scotland, it was the only part of the UK to support Owen Smith at the most recent leadership election.

Sarwar was MP for Glasgow Central from 2010 to 2015, only losing his seat in the 2015 wipe-out. He previously held a number of prominent positions within the party and achieved 51% of the vote when elected as Jim Murphy’s Deputy against two other candidates.

On the other hand, Mr Leonard is a relative newcomer to party politics having been active in trade unions for 20 years. He has acted as an economic spokesman for the party at Holyrood and worked on the party’s industrial strategy utilising his background in industrial and economic policy. However, it remains to be seen whether Scottish Labour will vote for an Englishman – Leonard was born and brought up in Yorkshire.

As the third largest party in Scotland, Scottish Labour has lost support to the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Conservatives who have been reinvigorated under the leadership of Ruth Davidson but it enjoyed a modest improvement in the recent General Election.

The election of either Sarwar or Leonard could have massive implications for Labour policies nationwide. Corbyn’s support for nuclear disarmament has been a contentious issue in Scotland due to SNP’s anti-nuclear policies and the number of jobs situated at the Clyde Naval Base. Sarwar has never voted on replacing Trident while Leonard’s views are uncertain at present.

Scottish Labour’s executive committee is due to meet on 9th September to decide the timetable of the leadership contest.

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