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Richard Leonard – still the man to take Scottish Labour Forward

” Richard Leonard is committed to transforming the MSP group at Holyrood. And this week’s antics have shown he has good reason to.”

Tommy Kane

By Tommy Kane

You would have thought just 8 months before the next Scottish elections and in the midst of global pandemic, which has wrought the worst public health crisis in our lifetime and an economic crisis to match, that all Scottish Labour MSPs would be fully focused on developing a post-covid vision and policy programme. 

You would have thought all would be completely concentrated on supporting and standing beside workers who are currently seeing their jobs and livelihoods under threat (just as Richard Leonard did on Friday when he visited and met with trade unionists as the threatened Alexander Denis plant in Falkirk).  Sadly, if you did you would be wrong.   

In the past few days, and on the day Richard Leonard’s campaign for a National Care Service was accepted and committed to by the Scottish Government in their (otherwise tepid) programme for Government, and then the day after that when he had the First Minister concede that it would be a not for profit service, some MSPs took it upon themselves to come out against Richard and his leadership. Completely overshadowing, in what has been deemed a deliberate act of sabotage, Richard and the wider movement’s work and role in winning this commitment.

They argue their action is as a result of Labour’s current standing in the polls and that Richard is not cutting through. What they omit to say is their own historic and current role in Labour’s decline in Scotland, how Richard inherited a Party already in third place and their decisions and role in taking us to third in the first place. Critically, they offer nothing on who they think should lead Scottish Labour instead and what policies and direction they think Labour should take. It’s no wonder their half- baked coup is now floundering.

This saga has exposed naked self-interest. It is no coincidence this has come just prior to an SEC meeting which will decide what the process will be regards selecting candidates for next year’s regional lists for the Scottish Parliament elections.

Richard Leonard is committed to transforming the MSP group at Holyrood. And this week’s antics have shown he has good reason to. Scottish Labour needs new voices and faces. People just like Richard Leonard, more concerned with developing an industrial strategy that protects and creates good well paid jobs for the people we seek to represent rather than those who appear more concerned with protecting their own.

Compounding the hollow rhetoric of those involved is their abject silence over Ian Murray’s intention, not once but twice, to join another political party. Imagine their outcry if this had been someone on the left. But of course their silence exposes another fundamental reason why they want rid of Richard Leonard.

He is a socialist. He is still talking about a green industrial revolution, about the need for a wealth tax, the need for public ownership, economic transformation and a fundamental redistribution of wealth and power. This is anathema to those who want to see the back of Richard Leonard – maybe that’s why there has been negative briefing coming from London. Including, some unelected Lords with questionable associations, who without one iota of irony or shame, are intent on disregarding his democratic mandate won from the membership when he was elected in 2017.  

How on earth are these types, which actually embody what many people in Scotland don’t like about the Labour Party, going to help us win again in Scotland? Similarly, how on earth does anyone think that bringing back the Better Together band for the second album will help us reach out to yes as well as no voters? 

They may think that they can cunningly bring someone in who bridges that divide, someone fresh and not tainted with Better Together, PFI, private schools, dodgy relationships with trade unions and courting other political parties. Whoever that is will be no more than a stalking horse and will be used by a ruthless Better Together, ultra-unionist  clique, which will focus on fighting for Tory votes and will create the policies necessary (over and above the constitution) to win Tory voters.

Winning back Scotland, or at least starting to win back votes, necessitates trying to build a voter coalition of those who deem themselves yes and no voters on the constitutional argument. The only way to try and ensure that happens is to push an offer of economic transformation that distinguishes Labour from the dire lack of SNP and Tory ambition, which sees them posture on the constitution whilst entrenching an economic status quo that sees poverty and inequality thrive, the cost of living soar and public services decline.

There is no-one amongst his detractors who will commit to such an agenda. Only Richard Leonard is committed to such a distinctive Scottish Labour Party.  But, under his leadership Labour has to develop its approach to the constitution. Much as I, and the majority of grassroots and wider movement support him and his positive vision for a rearranged UK based on radical federalism we need to go one step further. Yes, oppose independence for solid class and economic reasons but we need to concede that it is up to Scotland to decide whether it happens, the timing and the process – and we need to understand that Boris Johnston and the Tories are the biggest asset the SNP and indy movement currently have. Once we do that we might get more of a hearing when we outline our vision for economic transformation and a vision for a fairer and better society post covid.

Richard Leonard is a thoroughly decent and principled man. The strength, resilience, dignity and determination he has shown in his time as leader, embodied over the past few days, clearly shows he has been underestimated and that he is still the person to lead Scottish Labour into next year’s Scottish Parliament elections. He can turn things around, but the behaviour of some of the current crop has undermined his efforts.  Let’s hope they now take a step back and allow Richard, the Party and wider movement to get on with developing a programme that will help win the battle of ideas as we move towards the election next year.

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