Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard should resist calls to resign – David Martin

Scottish Labour members should take a Buddhist approach to the party’s problems and meditate on the need to work together, writes David Martin
Richard Leonard has faced calls from some Scottish Labour MSPs to resign as party leader (Picture: John Devlin)Richard Leonard has faced calls from some Scottish Labour MSPs to resign as party leader (Picture: John Devlin)
Richard Leonard has faced calls from some Scottish Labour MSPs to resign as party leader (Picture: John Devlin)

Once again, the Scottish Labour Party is in the throes of a leadership crisis.

That the Labour Party in Scotland is going through a difficult period is not open for debate.

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Our performance in last year’s European Elections and our current opinion poll ratings reflect a trend that if continued will see the effective extinction of Labour as a force in Scotland.

Is Richard Leonard to blame for this? I have little doubt he accepts his share of the collective responsibility for this nadir in Labour fortunes.

But the decline started well before his leadership and left him in a position no other post-devolution leader has been in – neither leading a government nor leader of the opposition.

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This clearly has curtailed his ability to command media and public attention.

There appear to be two charges against Richard. Firstly, that he is unknown and secondly that his views are a turn-off for the electorate.

Both surely cannot be true. If no one knows him how can his views be offending them?

The irony is that the recent attacks on his leadership have made more people more aware of him.

What has come across is that here is a man who is likeable, intelligent and determined.

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Are these not the qualities that a large swathe of the electorate wants and respect in a leader?

As for his views, it strikes me that Richard has been focusing on exactly the issues Labour should be concentrating on now.

The impact of the pandemic on the opportunities for the young especially in relation to training and the need for a national care strategy.

He has worked to keep climate change to the fore as a pressing issue and above all has set out policies to avoid an economic catastrophe post-pandemic.

We must not let the focus on personality drown out the coherent programme Labour is developing for a fairer Scotland.

Many of those criticising Richard are friends, some of them exceptionally good friends. I understand their concerns.

The party’s position is unquestionably precarious, but I say to them that changing the leader is no panacea for our problems.

We have tried and tried again changing leaders to no avail. We have had leaders of all hues, but no matter the captain, the unity of the crew is required to avoid the ship from hurtling to the rocks.

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Instead of the preoccupation with changing leaders, it’s time to refocus on what we stand for as a party and unite behind our ideals.

Too often as a collective, we have looked not to wider interests but to our own narrow concerns and too many individuals have looked not to the wider interests of the party but to their own idiosyncratic concerns.

It is often said that the Labour party owes more to methodism than to Marxism. I have been pondering lately that we should instead turn to Buddhism.

Everyone in the party should be encouraged to meditate and consider how their individual actions might contribute to a better whole and take to heart the Buddha’s message that there is no such thing as self we are all interdependent.

Or, to put it another way, we are all in it together.

David Martin is a professor at the Policy Scotland research unit at the University of Glasgow and was a Labour Party Member of the European Parliament for the Lothians and then Scotland from 1984 to 2019

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