Embattled Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard quits
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard resigned Thursday, teeing up a leadership battle just months before crucial Scottish elections.
In a statement, Leonard — in charge for three years — said he had “come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party” for him to step down with immediate effect.
“This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the party,” he added.
A member of the Scottish parliament from the party’s left wing and ally of former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Leonard took over Scottish Labour in 2017 after a bitter leadership contest with Anas Sarwar — who is now an early favorite to take over as leader, according to media reports.
But the party has failed to eat into the pro-independence Scottish National Party’s commanding electoral position, with the once-dominant-in-Scotland Labour finishing fifth in the 2019 European election and fourth in the general election later that year in terms of seats.
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Leonard faced a challenge to his leadership in 2020, as a handful of members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) quit his team and put forward a motion of no confidence. They attributed the challenge to polling showing that nearly 60 percent of Scots had no opinion on the Scottish Labour leader, despite his three years in the role.
Referencing that challenge, Leonard said speculation over his position had become “a distraction.”
Keir Starmer, who leads the Labour Party at Westminster, said Leonard had “led Scottish Labour through one of the most challenging and difficult periods in our country’s history,” and had “achieved a considerable amount for which he should be very proud.”
But Neil Findlay, a member of the Scottish parliament and ally of Leonard, took aim at MSPs who had challenged Leonard’s leadership.
He said those who had led a sustained “campaign of briefings to journalists, leaks of private conversations and the constant feeding of stories to the media in an effort to bring down a decent and honest man have succeeded.”
“These people could not give a toss about the Labour Party members — they are driven by one thing and that is their own self interest,” Findlay told POLITICO. “They make me sick.”
Scottish Labour trailed the SNP by almost 40 points in the most recently released poll for the May Scottish parliament election.