Richard Leonard resigns: A new leader could be good news for Scottish Labour and Scotland too – Scotsman comment

There was an air of inevitability about Richard Leonard’s resignation as Scottish Labour leader even though it was a long time coming.
Richard Leonard has resigned as leader of the Scottish Labour party (Picture: John Devlin)Richard Leonard has resigned as leader of the Scottish Labour party (Picture: John Devlin)
Richard Leonard has resigned as leader of the Scottish Labour party (Picture: John Devlin)

Some within the party may have preferred that he left earlier if he was going to do so, given there are now just four months left until the Scottish Parliament elections in May.

Leonard, an MSP for central Scotland, said he had “thought long and hard over the Christmas period” and had ultimately decided that continuing speculation about his leadership had become a distraction that was harming the party’s ability to get its message across.

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“I have come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party that I step aside as leader of Scottish Labour with immediate effect,” he said.

His election as leader in 2017 came after Jeremy Corbyn took over the UK party and they were fellow travellers on the Labour left. There was initially a burst of enthusiasm but it was more as a result of the “Corbyn bounce” and, as that faded, so too did Leonard’s profile.

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Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard resigns

He probably should have gone after the party finished fifth in the European elections in 2019 or after just one Labour MP was returned in the general election later that year. But Leonard tried his best and it is hard for anyone to admit when that is just not good enough.

As Scottish Labour leader, he simply did not manage to achieve the kind of public recognition factor that was required to substantially shift public opinion in his party’s favour and pose a real challenge to the SNP government. Far too many voters barely knew who he was.

Scotland – or any democracy for that matter – needs an effective opposition to keep the government on their toes. A new SavantaComRes poll for The Scotsman put Labour on 18 per cent and the Tories on 19 compared to the SNP’s 53 per cent. That is not effective but weak opposition and if it got any weaker we’d be living in a one-party state.

Labour needs to quickly choose a new leader, one more in tune with Keir Starmer’s style of politics and capable of making much more of an impact. If they manage it, that will be good news for Scottish Labour and for the country too.

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