Car tycoon backs Johann Lamont to lead Labour

BRIAN Gilda, one of Scotland’s leading businessmen, has backed Johann Lamont in the contest to lead the Scottish Labour party.

Gilda, founder and chairman of the Peoples Ford dealership chain, has thrown his weight behind election frontrunner Lamont, just days before the party’s members are set to receive ballot papers for the three-way contest.

Although not a party member, the wealthy car dealer is one of Scottish Labour’s leading financial backers and has chaired a group that examined the party’s relationship with industry, as part of a review in the wake of May’s election defeat

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Gilda’s group – which operates six showrooms in Edinburgh, Falkirk, Livingston and in the Liverpool area – has a turnover of more than £140 million and employs nearly 400 people.

The tycoon, who built his business empire after starting out as an unemployed teenager in the 1980s, has regularly helped to bankroll Scottish Labour’s election campaigns, with donations running into thousands of pounds.

Gilda’s endorsement of Lamont’s campaign came as the Labour MSP announced a new flagship policy, the “growth grant”, which she says will provide short-term funding to help small and medium sized firms employ more staff.

Lamont said Scottish Labour would also launch a “youth unemployment taskforce” to examine how to tackle youth unemployment and that she would pledge more cash for colleges if she is elected as party leader. Gilda backed the policies, which he said were the “radical thinking” that had convinced him to endorse her.

He said: “In her, I see the drive, the experience and the vision to get Scotland’s economy moving – at both a local and international level – by creating opportunities for ambitious businesses and for young people so that they can realise their dreams.”

Lamont said she was “delighted” to have the support of Gilda, who she said had given crucial “advice to the party over many years”.

She said: “My first priority as leader will be jobs and the economy and we have to work with entrepreneurs like Brian to realise Scotland’s potential and create opportunities for young people.

“I believe we as a party have to present the broadest appeal possible and I am pleased that my campaign has attracted wide support, from the business community to the big trade unions, and from party members all over Scotland.”

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The other candidates in the election, Eastwood MSP Ken Macintosh and Glasgow South MP Tom Harris, have yet to declare any major businesses supporters. The result of the contest will be declared on 17 December.

Meanwhile, shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran will today admit that Labour politicians “talked amongst ourselves” and failed to convince voters that they were “front and centre of our concerns”.

In a speech to Labour students in Glasgow, Curran will also call on the SNP to ask a single question on independence at the forthcoming referendum.

Curran will argue that “devolution and separation are two totally opposing concepts, two different journeys”.

Her comments came as Douglas Alexander told the students yesterday that the SNP should set forward one single question on the referendum, arguing that the SNP should not seek to “conflate” two different styles of governance.

Curran will use her speech today to acknowledge that Scottish Labour requires radical change if it is to have a chance of getting back into power at Holyrood.