Scottish Labour leadership campaign begins

Two candidates have entered the race to become the new leader of Scottish Labour, just months ahead of the Scottish parliament elections, after Richard Leonard resigned. 

Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon, both regional MSPs, have begun their campaigns by pledging to reintegrate Labour into the national conversation, currently between the staunchly unionist Conservatives and the SNP.

The independence question has been a catalyst of electoral decline for Scottish Labour, with the party’s ‘devolutionist’ message struggling to reach out to voters after 20 years of the Scottish parliament. 

Whoever wins the election will be Labour’s sixth permanent leader in the last decade. 

With the strong support of ‘Momentum’, a left-wing grassroots activist movement, Leonard narrowly defeated Sarwar in 2017 for the leadership and went on to align himself with the policies of Jeremy Corbyn. 

However poor election results followed, with the European parliament elections seeing Labour win just nine percent of the vote. 

The most recent general election saw the party lose all of their seats bar one, Edinburgh South. 

Sir Keir Starmer’s election as UK Labour leader shined a spotlight on the differences the two men had on policy, and there were calls from Leonard’s own MSPs for him to stand down, so he could be replaced by a more recognisable, media-savvy leader. 

Whilst he initially rebuffed calls to step down – accusing critics of mounting an “internal war“ against him – he announced his departure two weeks ago, saying his decision, which he had made over christmas, was ‘the right one for me and for the party’.

Anas Sarwar is the favourite to succeed him, gaining the support of the majority of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party, and former First Minister Lord McConnell.

 Ideologically a ‘Brownite’, he has been identified as a ‘moderniser’ within the party, and previously served as an MP for Glasgow Central, where he succeeded his father, a cash and carry magnate. 

Up against him is Monica Lennon, currently serving as the party’s health spokesperson. 

In that role, she successfully lobbied the Scottish government to make period products freely available in all public institutions, making Scotland the first country in the world to do so. 

An ally of the outgoing leader, Lennon has secured her nomination through grassroots support and the backing of Unite the Union. 

Announcing their respective candidacies, Sarwar criticised the internal fighting within Scottish labour, saying that “too much time“ had been spent “highlighting our differences, rather than focusing on what unites us“. 

Writing in The Observer, he said that the country should move away from “the constant focus on another independence referendum, when there’s far more important things we need to be dealing with“, going on to say that under his leadership “Scottish Labour can compete again if we offer a positive alternative – a plan to heal our wounds, to reunite our people and to rebuild our country“. 

Meanwhile, Lennon’s campaign announcement called “for a fairer, more equal Scotland“ on Twitter. 

Two weeks prior, she had echoed former leader Johann Lamont who said that Scottish Labour was still treated as a “branch office by London“, going further to suggest that Scottish Labour disaffiliated itself from UK Labour to end the party’s “long-term losing streak“, and become “a modern, dynamic political force“. 

Hustings have already begun, and ballots will open on 9th February and close on the 26th, with the winner announced the following day.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief, May-September 2022
Former Deputy EiC & Opinion Editor