Calls for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard to quit after disastrous EU election results

Scottish Labour is facing complete meltdown after the party lost two MEPs and slumped to its worst electoral defeat in living memory.

Richard Leonard. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Richard Leonard. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Demands are mounting for leader Richard Leonard’s resignation after his party slid from second to fifth place, and polled just 9.3 per cent of the vote in the European elections.

Meanwhile, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last night called for a second referendum on Scottish independence to be held next year.

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Speaking on a visit to Dublin, the SNP leader said the “latter half” of 2020 would be the “right time” for a new poll.

And after seeing both Labour and the Conservatives effectively wiped out at the ballot box over Europe, Ms Sturgeon predicted victory in a second vote, with Scotland becoming “an independent country just like Ireland”.

Labour members erupted in fury at the election result and took to social media to blame Mr Leonard, while the party’s MPs said Scotland had delivered an “utterly damning verdict” on his leadership and sources within the party at Holyrood said the result was “catastrophic” and made his position “untenable”.

The Scotsman understands some Labour constituency parties are considering submitting motions of no confidence in Mr Leonard to the ­party’s Scottish Executive Committee, while party sources suggested today’s Labour group meeting in Holyrood will see MSPs demand answers on the failure to return a single MEP.

Labour candidates already selected for the next general election have also demanded meetings with Mr Leonard, his deputy Lesley Laird and the campaigns manager and Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay. It is understood that they will call for Mr Findlay’s resignation from his position in light of yesterday’s result.

David Martin, the UK’s longest serving MEP, having spent 35 years in Brussels, blamed Labour’s failure to take a clear stand on the crucial issue of Brexit for the result which saw him lose his seat.

However, last night Mr Leonard – who last week said he was responsible for election results – said he would not resign and backed Mr Findlay in his role.

He also said it was clear that Labour “needed to back a second EU referendum with a credible Leave and Remain option”.

Scottish Labour returned two MEPs to Brussels at the last European elections in 2014, winning 25.9 per cent of the vote. Since then it has seen its vote collapse at both the 2015 general election when it returned just one MP, and the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, where it came third.

It did see a bounce during the snap general election in 2017, where it returned seven MPs. But the European elections of last Thursday saw its vote share fall to a record low, squeezed out by the SNP, Brexit Party, Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

Yesterday Labour MPs Ian Murray and Martin Whitfield said that the results must act as “an urgent wake-up call”. They added: “If there is to be any hope of recovery, Scottish Labour must become a passionate, relentless, and vocal voice for a final say on Brexit.”

Writing in The Scotsman, they said: “The European election results are by far the worst results in Scottish Labour’s long and proud history. There is no way to sugar-coat this – the people of Scotland have delivered an utterly damning verdict.

“This was Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard’s manifesto, their message, their decision to ignore the membership and what voters were saying to us. It was their election campaign and their mess. They stuck their heads in the Brexit sand because they can’t lead. We have paid the price for their failure.

“The blame for the worst result in Scottish Labour’s history lies squarely with our party’s leadership. This was an election campaign about the biggest issue facing our generation: Brexit. And yet we walked away from that battlefield, offering nothing but ambiguity on an issue that will determine the future of our country.”

Party members also expressed their anger and frustration at Scottish Labour’s results. West Lothian Labour councillor Kirsteen Sullivan said Mr Leonard had “failed” as leader. She added: “He can make a contribution at grass roots and leave the leadership to someone better qualified and more able.”

And John Duncan, a parliamentary aide for Anas Sarwar, tweeted: “In any rational world Jeremy Corbyn and Richard Leonard would have resigned today in time for the lunchtime news. If you lead a political party to its worst ever set of results in its entire history, the game is up. Dithering about it just makes it look worse.”

Ben Proctor, chairman of Eastwood Labour, said he “expected resignations”, while Johanna Baxter, chairwoman of Cunninghame North Labour Party, said she had written to Mr Leonard calling for an emergency SEC meeting to “discuss and address the causes of our worst electoral result in living memory”.

In her letter she said: “This result was a failure of leadership on the biggest issue facing our country for generations, on which I trust you will fully reflect.”

One party source said: “I’m gutted for David [Martin] – he didn’t deserve this and worked so hard.

“I’m angry at [Jeremy] Corbyn but more so at Richard [Leonard] for having no backbone to stand up to him and do something distinct in Scotland on opposing Brexit and promoting a second referendum. The campaign was lacklustre and Richard seemed disinterested.

“The fact he’s still in position and hasn’t had the decency to resign says everything about where we are and how utterly dreadful the situation is.”

Last week Mr Leonard said he took “responsibility for our electoral performance in Scotland. But I’m not contemplating a heavy defeat.”

But yesterday when asked if he would now resign, he said: “No. This election was always going to be difficult for Labour, in the end it became a proxy re-run of the Brexit referendum which meant the Labour vote in Scotland was badly squeezed.

“I firmly believe that the way forward for Scottish Labour is to continue to focus on the issues that people on the doorsteps tell us matter to them. Schools, hospitals and an economy that works for them.

“My job, my responsibility, is to unite our party behind our core values and reassure the people who vote Labour, and those who are looking to us for the future, that we offer the vision of a better future.”