How “Scottish Momentum” can influence Scottish Labour leadership race

It is set to be a  two-horse race between Richard Leonard (left) and frontbencher Anas Sarwar to succeed Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Scotsman
It is set to be a two-horse race between Richard Leonard (left) and frontbencher Anas Sarwar to succeed Kezia Dugdale. Picture: Scotsman
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Kezia Dugdale’s departure has sent shockwaves throughout the wider Labour movement, taking political friends and foes alike by surprise.

The Lothians MSP didn’t have her critics to seek in some sections of Scottish Labour, especially after she backed Jeremy Corbyn’s rival Owen Smith in last summer’s leadership election.

That may have been a fatal mistake, especially given the relative success of Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign in June.

However, there seemed to be no immediate danger to the leadership of Ms Dugdale, and her abrupt departure leaves Labour members seeking yet another new leader.

After a series of potential contenders ruled themselves out, including current deputy Alex Rowley and Corbyn ally Neil Findlay, it now seems set to be a two horse race between Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard.

One group that could be vital to the leadership election, and the future direction of the party, is the Labour Campaign for Socialism.

A potted history

Because of their youthful membership, and the way that they have sought to insert themselves into the party’s governing bodies, the CfS has been compared to campaigning group “Momentum”.

Earlier this year, the CfS and Momentum agreed to undertake a joint membership programme, though they are separate entities.

However, while the latter is seen by many as an entryist organisation set on a wholesale takeover, the CfS is better regarded even by those in Scottish Labour who are less left-wing.

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The CfS describe themselves as ‘committed to promote the socialist ideas and policies within the labour movement.

While over 20 years old, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and a rocketing membership (an insider says they are growing at a faster rate than the party itself) has given them an increased prominence.

CfS activists are “lobbying hard” to try and encourage Richard Leonard to stand in the leadership election, and the former trade union man is the current bookies’ favourite.

They have this week called for a comradely leadership election, and wished Kezia Dugdale well following her departure.

Criticism

That is not to say that they are averse to some momentum-style criticism of those who they fell are moving the party too far from its raison d’etre.

Accusations that some kind of left wing putsch forced out Ms Dugdale do seem slightly overblown, especially considering her reasons for leaving seem as much personal as they are political.

However, the CfS did have some scathing criticism for Ms Dugdale in a report into the snap general election that received much publicity.

Kezia Dugdale was quoted by sources close to her as furious over the report, which found that the Labour vote fell in many Scottish seats, and blamed her message for it.

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They accused Ms Dugdale of almost ‘silencing Jeremy Corbyn’s message’ by constantly attacking the SNP.

The report added: “By not challenging the Tories’ record in government and focusing on the SNP, Scottish Labour are in the Better Together mind-set.”

The future

Labour CfS’s main role is in increasing their influence on the party as a whole, especially after a slate of CfS candidates had won spots on both the UK and Scottish Executive Committee.

They now want to see Richard Leonard stand, with sources noting that with Neil Findlay ruling himself out, “there’s no plan B”.

A senior CfS source said: “Richard Leonard isn’t CfS in the way Neil Findlay is, but he could certainly be considered a fellow traveller.

“Anas Sarwar, like Kezia Dugdale, isn’t a hate figure for the left, but he did a lot to damage relations with them by signing an anti-Corbyn letter last year.”

They were, however, keen to downplay a rift on the scale seen in the wider party, adding: “While there are constant battles in Scottish Labour, they’re not rooted in idealogical splits to the same extent as the UK party, so lots of Labour people just need reassuring the party can win from the left.

“The steps taken in June have gone a long way to convincing people of that, and I reckon that’ll be key to the left electing the next leader.”

Whomever emerges as the new leader of Scottish Labour will be keen to ensure they stay on longer than their ill-fated predecessors, and getting CfS on board could be absolutely crucial for that.

Billing them the Scottish Momentum might be a bridge too far, but they certainly could have the same impact on a party that needs stability now more than ever.