Scottish Labour’s Shadow Justice Spokesperson, James Kelly MSP, resigned last night in a scathing letter sent to party leader Richard Leonard.
Sharing the contents of the letter on social media this morning, Mr Kelly took aim at Scottish Labour’s poor polling results, as well as Mr Leonard’s own ratings with the public.
He blasted the party’s “unacceptably low” ranking of just 14 per cent in a recent poll, and said that, after nearly three years in charge, “more than half of the public have no opinion” on Mr Leonard.
It comes after former Scottish Conservatives leader Jackson Carlaw resigned unexpectedly last month amid internal pressure over lacklustre polling. He was replaced by Conservative MP for the Highlands and Islands, Douglas Ross, who ran unchallenged for the role.
Today’s letter, which Mr Kelly shared on twitter, revealed that he had confronted his party leader three weeks ago in his office, sharing his concerns “for the party’s prospects in the 2021 Scottish Parliament Elections.”
But, he wrote, Mr Leonard told him he believed he could “reverse” Scottish Labour’s poor position in the polls.
Mr Kelly told his leader that his decision to resign from the Shadow Cabinet came after he “watched your performance closely” over three weeks and concluded that the position of the party had continued “to decline not improve”.
“I am writing today to resign from my position as Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
“I spoke to you in your office 3 weeks ago about my concerns for the party’s prospects in the 2021 Scottish Parliament Elections.
“I outlined my views that to reverse the party’s decline it was necessary for you to resign as Leader. You have responded by saying you wished to remain in post as you believed you could reverse our poor position in the polls.
“No one doubts your commitment to the principles of socialism and solidarity,” Mr Kelly wrote, “but the job of the Leader is to win support for the political party.”
“Given my lack of confidence in your leadership, I have therefore taken the difficult decision to resign from the Shadow Cabinet,” he added.
Senior MSPs call for Leonard to resign
Meanwhile, North East Scotland MSP Jenny Marra told the Times newspaper that if the party does “not change course now, we risk catastrophe”.
Their calls were backed by fellow MSP Daniel Johnson, who said: “It is not easy speaking out but my colleagues Jenny Marra and James Kelly have done the right thing.“It is time to recognise the situation we are in and for Richard to step down.”
Mr Leonard made clear he was not quitting, as he hit out at “disgruntled MSPs” who he accused of trying to “wage an internal war”.
He insisted: “I am leading Scottish Labour into the 2021 elections on a platform of building a National Care Service, establishing a quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme and reviving Scotland’s economy with a Green New Deal.
“If any party representative thinks an internal faction fight is more important than this agenda, they will have to answer to the party members and the voters whom we serve.”
Labour is currently third in the opinion polls in Scotland, behind both the SNP and the Tories.
In the European elections in May 2019 the party slumped to fifth north of the border, polling less than 10% of the vote.
James Kelly’s full letter to Richard Leonard
“In the last 3 weeks, I have watched your performance closely. The position of the party continues to decline not improve. Recent polling shows Scottish Labour support at an unacceptably low level of 14%.
“This has been a worrying and consistent trend for some time. In addition, your personal polling ratings are particularly low.
“More than half of the public have no opinion on you and you have a negative rating even among our own supporters. Such poor ratings could produce a catastrophic result from which the party would struggle to recover.
“Coming a poor third in the election would be letting down those who rely on Scottish Labour to provide a strong voice.
“I see no evidence of a clear plan to reverse the party’s fortunes. The situation has been apparent for some time and you have failed to turn things around. I have no confidence in your ability to shape the party’s message, strategy and organisation.
“I know that this is a view shared by other parliamentarians, party members and indeed many members of the public. No one doubts your commitment to the principles of socialism and solidarity but the job of the Leader is to win support for the political party.
“In that regard, it is clear that after nearly 3 years in charge you are not able to take the party forward. I firmly and sincerely believe that is in the best interest of the party that you stand down as leader.
“Given my lack of confidence in your leadership, I have therefore taken the difficult decision to resign from the Shadow Cabinet.
“This is not a decision that I have taken lightly. I have always been a loyal party member and this is the first time in 39 years of membership that I have resigned a position.
“I have been a member of the Shadow Cabinet for 9 years and served under different leaders in a variety of positions including Chief Whip and Business Manager. The interests of the Scottish Labour Party are the key consideration in the conclusions that I have reached.”