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Scottish Labour leadership race: formal campaigning closes

BySonja Rijnen

Nov 8, 2017

Formal campaigning for the Scottish Labour leadership role has closed with Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar emerging as the two top candidates to replace Kezia Dugdale.

The results of the election will be announced on November 11.

Current acting head of the Labour Party Anas Sarwar was, until 2015, MP for Glasgow Central, also serving as Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party from 2011-2014.

His opponent, Richard Leonard, has been MSP for the Central Scotland region and has acted as Chair of Scottish Labour’s executive.

Throughout the final days of his campaign, Leonard has accused his rival of putting forward “lightweight” policies that did not address climate change, crime or social inequality.

These accusations of “glaring omissions” came after Sarwar gained momentum with his proposal for steep tax increases for high earners to fund tax cuts for lower income households. 

The leadership contest has greatly reflected divisions within the Labour Party with Leonard – a former trade union organiser – pitching policies more in tune with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“Too much power rests in too few hands, so this is no time to tinker around the edges,” he said in a speech at the beginning of the voting period.

The party has witnessed a decline in support in Scotland, losing a considerable amount of seats to the Scottish National Party (SNP).

The contest is being hailed as a test of Corbyn’s popularity in Scotland, which has fluctuated under Dugdale’s leadership.

Despite a recent surge of support in May’s General Election, Labour support is considerably behind that of the SNP’s and only just ahead of the Conservatives in Scotland.

Sarwar, with his centre-leaning views, claims that voting for his more left-wing rival would lead to a further decrease in Labour support from the Scottish electorate.

His policies are more in keeping with the general consensus in Holyrood, for example his pro-Europe outlook and his desire for Scotland to stay in the single market.

Conversely, Leonard voted to leave the European Union, a view that doesn’t reflect the official Labour Party stance.

Pauline McNeill, chair of Sarwar’s campaign, commented: “This contest cannot be a referendum on Jeremy. It is, however, a contest to decide who is best able to strengthen Scottish Labour… [and to] transform Scotland.”

Dr Alan Convery, a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh and Scottish politics specialist, told The Student: “One of the reasons that the Labour Party is divided is that whilst the most of its MPs campaigned for remain, many of them represent constituencies where a majority of voters opted for Brexit.

“Under Corbyn, the party has maintained an ambiguous stance on Brexit. It is a difficult party management issue because the leadership has to balance the membership, MPs and Labour voters, many of whom favour Brexit.”

Around 35,000 people are eligible to vote in the leadership contest after the registration of around 4,000 new members.


Image: Keegan Mullen / Photographer

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