“We are winning the public argument,” says defiant Richard Leonard

Andrew Kersley

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has declared that he will be leading the party into the 2021 Holyrood elections despite a number of Labour MSPs calling for his resignation.

In a letter on Tuesday, Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly resigned from the shadow cabinet claiming he had “no confidence” in Leonard’s ability to lead Labour into next year’s elections.

But the Scottish party leader said he would “fulfil the mandate” of the members who elected him and claimed to be “confident” about Labour’s chances at the polls in May.

Commenting on the MSPs calling for his resignation, Leonard said: “We’re a democratic party and there’s always been room for dissent and people can voice their views.

“I’m concerned that this is a signal that there is too much inward-looking inside the group at Holyrood and not enough outward-facing, and I think that that calls into question whether some of these people are the best people to stand for the Labour Party next year.”

Allies of Leonard have suggested that the resigning MSPs were likely to be placed further down their regional lists than they would prefer and have therefore concluded that they had little to lose.

Leonard said he was “disappointed” in the timing of the Kelly’s resignation, which came after the SNP government announced its intention to set up a National Care Service – as advocated by Labour.

Labour called on the SNP to reform Scotland’s social care system after a public consultation showed that over 90% of people didn’t think the current system was working, and Scotland saw a high coronavirus death rate in its care homes.

Asked whether he was the man to lead the party into the next election, the leader said: “I am clear that we are winning the public argument over our case for action on jobs, over the Green New Deal and the greening of the economy, as well as over our case for a National Care Service.”

“The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the economy, it has exposed weaknesses in our public services, it has exposed weaknesses in the care system and we’ve got the answers.”

Polling by YouGov for The Times last month put Labour on a 14% share of the vote and indicated that 53% of Scottish voters did not recognise Leonard.

Commenting on Labour’s current position in the polls, Leonard said: “Every opposition party is being squeezed because of the perceived popularity of the government and the profile that’s given to the first minister with these daily briefings.

“But we’ve got a distinctive clear radical programme that we will take to the people of Scotland in next May’s election.

“We will be, at that point, at the height of an unemployment crisis and will see enormous pressure on our public services so our agenda around jobs, a Green New Deal, investment in public service, around health and education.

“These will be the priorities of the people and of the Scottish Labour Party and with that I hope we will win votes and secure an increase in Labour’s vote share.”

Kelly, who had been Scottish Labour’s spokesperson for justice, wrote in a letter to Leonard: “I have no confidence in your ability to shape the party’s message, strategy and organisation.

“I know that this is a view shared by other parliamentarians, party members and indeed many members of the public.”

He was joined in his resignation call by two more of the party’s 23 representatives in Holyrood, North East Scotland MSP Jenny Marra and Edinburgh Southern MSP Daniel Johnson.

Keir Starmer’s spokesperson was asked about the dissent within Scottish Labour this afternoon. He said: “This is a matter for Scottish Labour. But Keir and Richard have a very good working relationship.

“They’re both focused on next year’s Scottish elections, where we are determined to take on the SNP and challenge them on their domestic record.”

Asked about Labour’s poor polling in Scotland, the spokesperson added: “Keir has set out his determination to rebuild people’s trust in Labour across all corners of the United Kingdom. Matters of leadership are for Scottish Labour.”

It was confirmed that Starmer last spoke to Leonard last week, and that they talked about “their shared ambition to rebuild trust in Scotland and take on the SNP on their domestic record”.

On whether Starmer or anyone on his behalf has asked Leonard to consider his position, the UK Labour leader’s spokesperson replied: “No.”

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