Hugh Henry: Why Richard Leonard had to sack Baillie and Sarwar

After Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard sacks Anas Sarwar and Jackie Baillie from his shadow Cabinet, former Labour minister Hugh Henry argues that the party needs to realise Leonard's election was not a 'temporary blip' that can be ignored but part of a major shift in Western democracy.

Richard Leonard is an ally of Jeremy Corbyn (Picture: John Devlin)

It’s profoundly disappointing that Richard Leonard has felt compelled to make changes to his team at Holyrood.

He came to the Scottish Parliament with a pedigree of activity, engagement and ideas to make Scotland better. He came fired up with a commitment to fairness and justice. He wasn’t put off by the challenge of revitalising a moribund Labour Party.

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Rather, he saw it as a responsibility and an opportunity to deliver for those left behind. He cares passionately about the life chances of ordinary Scots which for many can be blighted before they leave school.

Those ideals struck a chord with the majority of Scottish Labour members. We all share an anger that ordinary working people have been getting a raw deal since the recession in 2008. That in one sense is nothing new.

All across Western democracies, we are seeing an outpouring of that anger. There is a profound cynicism about professional politicians not delivering and not listening.

So, when Richard Leonard offered a fresh start to Scottish Labour and a different way of doing things, he struck a chord with the majority of Labour members.

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Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to persuade all Labour MSPs but members were clear what they were voting for and that’s what counts. To be fair to Richard, he recognised the views of his MSPs and has attempted to reach out and be inclusive.

I’ve been impressed with his sincerity and determination to build a new team. To his credit, he has tried to make it work.

You would think that in the difficult situation in which Scottish Labour finds itself, with a faltering Tory Government and with Scottish public services and living standards under real pressure, Labour members might have expected their elected politicians to get behind Richard Leonard.

It’s puzzling and disappointing that while he has been trying to focus on the NHS, council services, life chances for young Scots and the need to rebuild the Scottish economy, some have been busy trying to undermine him.

Instead of unity behind a newly elected leader, we have had disparaging remarks to the press on a range of issues with slights made about Richard’s principles and policies (which were the very reason for him being elected in the fir st place).

Whatever some may think of Richard Leonard or the direction of Scottish Labour, they need to realise that he reflects what members want. He deserves to be given the chance to do what he has been asked to do by members.

The surest way for Scottish Labour to remain in third place in Scottish politics is to keep undermining the Labour leadership in Scotland and the UK.

Disunity and disharmony will have a telling effect at the ballot box. Unfortunately, some seem to think Richard Leonard’s election was a temporary blip and the result should be ignored.

That won’t happen and Labour MSPs and others have a choice to make. Will they get behind the democratically elected leader and help to rebuild Scottish Labour or will they try to destabilise and destroy?

Labour members across Scotland want to know that they have a united team in the Scottish Parliament supporting Richard Leonard.

More importantly voters need to know Scottish Labour is pulling together to build a Scotland for the many, not the few.

Hugh Henry is a former Labour MSP for Renfrewshire South