Leader comment: Corbyn is failing the leadership test

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has been accused by a Labour MP of heading the only party in Scotland opposed to continued membership of the single market.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has been accused by a Labour MP of heading the only party in Scotland opposed to continued membership of the single market.
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Criticism of Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is inevitable, given how closely he is aligned to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership at UK level. The impression that Mr Leonard is “Corbyn’s man in Scotland” has been there since he became a candidate to replace Kezia Dugdale.

In that context, we might be tempted to consider an attack on Mr Leonard’s positioning as predictable, but today he is the subject of startling criticism from one of his own party’s MPs. And more than that, Wes Streeting claims that the Scottish leader is pushing a harder version of Brexit north of the Border than all other parties – including the Conservatives. For a Labour politician on the receiving end of that kind of verdict, that’s fighting talk.

Judging by Mr Corbyn’s remarks on Brexit at the weekend, we shouldn’t expect Mr Leonard to change tack any time soon. The party’s UK leader believes that pursuit of continued membership of the single market is pointless to the extent that he is not even going to try. “I don’t quite understand why she [Nicola Sturgeon] would keep saying ‘join the single market’ when leaving the EU means you leave the single market,” stated Corbyn.

He might be right. Ultimately, Brexit and the single market could be incompatible. But until an agreement is reached on the terms of separation, those who want to stay in the single market have every reason to seek that outcome. This is uncharted territory, and nothing can be ruled out at this stage.

“If the Labour Party tomorrow decided to remain in the single market, we would instantly command a majority in the Commons,” Mr Streeting told The Scotsman. So what is stopping Mr Corbyn? What is more important for the leader of the opposition than the opportunity to head a movement seeking influence over the biggest political event in a generation?

It’s here we are reacquainted with one of the reasons that brought about Brexit in the first place. Mr Corbyn’s opposition to Brexit was lukewarm at best, and his party lacked the kind of leadership that would have helped to deliver the necessary support for Remain.

In Scotland, where a majority of voters backed Remain, those who oppose Brexit would take some consolation in single market membership. If Mr Corbyn has ambition for the highest office in the land, he would do well to consider that he can only achieve this by taking Scotland with him.