Mon, 27 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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After Calls For Him To 'Consider His Position', How Much Trouble Is Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard In?

Rachel Reeves said Mr Leonard should consider his position as Scottish Labour leader.

4 min read

Rachel Reeves sparked an internal party row after she called on Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard to "consider his position".

The shadow Cabinet Office minister piled further pressure on the party's Scottish leader to quit on Thursday, after she hit out at Labour's "dire" polling numbers north of the border.

It comes after four Labour MSPs called for Mr Leonard to step down - including shadow justice spokesperson James Kelly, who resigned from the party' shadow cabinet claiming he had "no confidence" in the leadership.

Recent polling has found Labour trailing a distant third place behind the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives, with just 14% of voters saying they support Mr Leonard's party.

But the Scottish leader, who took over from Kezia Dugdale in 2017, has so far resisted demands to resign, instead calling on members to "unite behind me" ahead of May's Holyrood election.

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to get involved in the internal row, saying it was a matter for the Scottish party and insisting he was working with Mr Leonard to "rebuild trust in Scotland, and take on the SNP's domestic record ahead of next year's elections".

But speaking to BBC Breakfast, opposition frontbencher Ms Reeves said the embattled MSP should "do what he thinks is right for Scotland and for Scottish Labour".

"I think that Richard Leonard needs to think about his position. The opinion polls in Scotland are pretty dire for Labour, we've got important elections next year, but those are decisions for Scottish Labour," she told Sky News.

"It wouldn't be right as an English MP to instruct what happens in the Scottish Labour party but he needs to look at the opinion polls, consider his position and do what he thinks is right for Scotland and for Scottish Labour."

Mr Leonard insisted the comments from Westminster would have no influence on his position.

"Rachel Reeves is not a member of the Scottish Labour party and I am elected by members of the Scottish Labour party. That's who I am accountable to," he told BBC Scotland.

"They elected me back in 2017 to lead the Scottish Labour party into the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections - that is what I am on course to do."

Ms Reeves later posted a clarification to Twitter, saying decisions around Mr Leonard's future were a "matter for Scottish Labour".

"As I said repeatedly this morning, matters about Scottish Labour are for Scottish Labour," she added.

"Keir, Richard the whole of the Labour Party are determined to rebuild trust in Scotland, and take on the SNP's domestic record ahead of next year's elections."

But the cross-border spat is likely to fuel further criticism of Scottish Labour's position as a "branch office" of the Westminster party.

Mr Leonard had previously come under pressure from his MSPs to push back against the national party after his picture was excluded from Labour leaflets sent out during last year's European elections, in which the Scottish party plummeted into fifth place.

But wider concerns over his leadership spilled out in recent days after some Labour MSPs warned the party faced a "catastrophic" defeat at the elections in eight months' time unless Mr Leonard was removed.

Jenny Marra, a north east list MSP, said it was an "unavoidable truth" that the party needed a change in leader.

"The reality is that you only have a short window in political leadership to make an impression on the public," she said.

"After three years the party’s standing is getting worse rather than better. No one can say that Richard has not had opportunities to turn the situation around.

"Colleagues know that [Mr Leonard] is utterly committed to the party, the cause and he is liked by everyone."

She added: "But the job we are asked to do by the party is not to let sentiment stop us from acting when all the evidence and our duty demands that we act. Richard is a stalwart of our party but he cannot lead us. That’s the unavoidable truth and change is our best hope."

Mr Leonard has failed to boost his party's popularity since taking over in 2017, with all but one of Labour's Scottish MPs losing their seats north of the border in the December 2019 general election.

But the embattled Scottish leader has steadfastly defied calls from his own MSPs to go, instead suggesting his critics could face deselection challenges

"We’re a democratic party. There’s also been room for dissent, and people can voice their views," he told BBC Scotland.

“But in the end I am concerned that this is a signal that there is too much inward-looking inside the group in Holyrood and not enough outward facing.

“And, you know, I think that that frankly calls into question whether some of these people are the best people to stand for the Labour party in the elections next year."

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