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‘Outrageous’: Labour’s left react to reports that Westminster leadership pushed Richard Leonard to stand down

by Niall Christie

Scotland editor

LABOUR’S left erupted today as reports emerged that the Westminster leadership pushed Scottish leader Richard Leonard to stand down following pressure from wealthy donors. 

Mr Leonard, who was elected by Scottish Labour members in 2017, quit this week following months of attacks from within the party, as well as repeated attempts by his own Holyrood colleagues and the party’s Scottish executive (SEC) to force him out.

The MSP said in his resignation he was concerned the speculation about his future had become “a distraction,” pledging to continue his work in Holyrood towards a “better future in a democratic economy and a socialist society.”

The Morning Star understands that Mr Leonard had been contacted by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer this week about his future, with Sir Keir encouraging the Scottish leader to step down. 

This followed a meeting held with party donors, where concerns were raised about the leadership in Scotland and whether financial support could be withdrawn.

The Star contacted Mr Starmer’s office about the claims, which a spokesman refused to deny. 

MSP Neil Findlay shared his outrage at the reported intervention, telling the Star that the leader’s office had made “no attempt to deny or distance themselves from the accusation.”

He said: “We’ve heard for years [Scottish] Labour has to be autonomous — don’t dare come up here and stamp on our autonomy. 

“If Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell were in Scotland and strayed off topic on Scottish issues, they would come down on them like a ton of bricks. The very same people are saying nothing at all about this.”

The race to succeed Mr Leonard could begin next week, with a meeting of the party’s procedures committee held on Friday before the SEC meet this weekend to agree a timetable. 

Concerns have been raised by figures on the left, who warned a “coronation” cannot be tolerated amid speculation Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar, who lost the 2017 leadership race, could run unopposed if a vote is held before May. 

Monica Lennon, MSP for Central Scotland, has also been tipped to run, with former Rutherglen MP Ged Killen touting the current health spokesperson on BBC Radio Scotland. 

Labour member of the House of Lords Pauline Bryan said it was imperative interim leader Jackie Baillie continue in the role until after the Holyrood elections in May, suggesting that a fresh crop of MSPs could take Scottish Labour forward. 

She said: “The alternative is either someone stepping in without challenge — and the process will have been devised like that — or we have an inconceivable selection process. 

“If these steps have been taken on the assumption there will be no internal election, that is outrageous.”

Ms Bryan suggested any attempt to hold a leadership race could render the ongoing regional list selections for Holyrood “null and void,” adding Labour risks spending weeks “talking to ourselves” instead of the electorate. 

She also said the fact Labour donors had “the audacity” to question Mr Leonard’s leadership was “outrageous.”

Ms Bryan added: “The fact there was a meeting for donors that got on to those issues and can say they can withdraw their money unless they take these steps or have these policies is ridiculous.”

Socialist MPs in England have called for clarity themselves following Mr Leonard’s departure, raising concerns about the potential influence of those funding the party. 

Socialist MP Jon Trickett said “urgent clarification” was needed from Mr Starmer, emphasising that Scotland and other regions share the common problem of wealth and power being concentrated around London. 

He said: “Donors deciding who should be a national Labour leader — that is not how the labour movement has ever worked. The leader has got to be chosen by the members.”

These concerns were shared by other Labour MPs in Westminster, with John McDonnell writing on Twitter: “It is clear from the emerging media reports that questions need to be answered about how this was brought about.”

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