Resurgent Labour can retake Holyrood, says new leader Leonard
LABOUR can win control of the Scottish Parliament if it makes the case for a socialism rooted in “values forged in the fire of daily struggle,” Scottish Labour’s new leader Richard Leonard said on Saturday.
At an event in Glasgow, the party announced that left-winger Mr Leonard, a former trade union official who has served in Holyrood for less than two years, had won the backing of 56.7 per cent of the party’s electorate.
He beat Anas Sarwar, a former vice-chairman of the Blairite faction Progress. Mr Leonard will succeed Kezia Dugdale — and will become the Scottish party’s sixth leader since it was ousted from government in Holyrood elections 10 years ago.
In a victory speech, Mr Leonard — who was backed by most of Labour’s affiliated unions — said being elected to lead “a movement of socialism” was “a source of immense pride but also very humbling.”
“Our shared purpose is clear: to build again, to win again,” he said.
“Our purpose today is not just electing a leader. My aim is to be the next Labour first minister of Scotland.”
He said “our socialism” would be rooted in “values forged in the fire of daily struggle.” And hailing the courage of workers staging a “work-in” at the infrastructure firm BiFab, he said: “The Scottish Labour Party is nothing if it is not on the side of working people [in dispute].”
He said Scottish Labour would also seek to tackle a toxic culture of sexism and harassment across politics and introduce an independent system for reporting allegations.
Scottish Labour continued to lose ground after the SNP won enough seats to form a minority administration at Holyrood in 2007.
In the 2015 general election the party faced a wipeout, winning just a single Westminster seat. But it made a small recovery in the snap poll this year.
Some party activists have said Labour’s decline north of the border can be attributed to the party positioning itself to the right of the SNP. Former leader Johann Lamont blasted Scotland’s “something for nothing” culture, questioning the country’s free prescriptions and lack of tuition fees.
Mr Leonard signalled a break from this approach, saying Labour would argue to “invest in universalism, not means-testing.”
Labour’s British leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Leonard’s victory could be “a turning point in Scottish politics,” making Labour “a real force for change” north of the border.
“Richard’s campaign offered a challenge to the rigged system that has benefited a wealthy elite and showed how he will lead Scottish Labour to transform society,” Mr Corbyn added.
Neil Findlay: MSP for Lothian
“I THINK we’ll see Scottish Labour providing a much more radical alternative to the SNP and the Tories, and I’m delighted. Richard’s been absolutely clear that under his leadership Labour will stand on the side of workers.
“Richard has a long track record of supporting workers in struggle, and representing them over 20 years. So I think it will be very clear what side Labour’s on when we see legitimate industrial disputes.”
Kate Shaw Nelson: Chair of Scottish Labour Students
“HOPEFULLY this can lead to a complete renewal of the Scottish Labour Party. On one of the phonebanks, we had pushing 40 people coming along on a wet Tuesday night in Scotland, and the overwhelming majority of them were under 25.
“And they’re the people you need. The Tories’ voters are only getting older, but if we can get round the youth vote, if we can capture the spirit the SNP managed to capture in 2014, that’s us.”
Dr Ewan Gibbs: Labour historian, University of the West of Scotland
“THIS week we’ve seen the Scottish labour movement renewing itself politically and industrially. To see the occupation of the BiFab yards combined with Richard Leonard’s election is a strong sign of the direction we can take things in.
“Richard’s vision for full employment, for industrial democracy, accords perfectly with what we’re seeing [in the work-ins] in Fife and Lewis. That’s the environmental and economic changes that we need to take forward.”