Labour leader Richard Leonard criticised over promoting Alex Rowley

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has come under fire for promoting Alex Rowley to his shadow cabinet.

Richard Leonard (right) promoted Alex Rowley (left) after sacking Anas Sarwar (centre). Picture: John Devlin

Prominent female Labour figures, including former MP Gemma Doyle, yesterday expressed reservations over Mr Rowley’s appointment as shadow local government minister.

Mr Rowley has been returned to Labour’s front bench almost a year after the party suspended him when harassment claims were made against him.

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The MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife had stepped aside as acting leader of the party north of the Border following claims he sent a series of ­abusive text messages to a former girlfriend.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, described him as “a ruthless bully” who harassed her for three years following the end of their relationship.

Mr Rowley’s former partner told police about the alleged behaviour but no further action was taken after an investigation. The MSP denied the claims, but referred himself to Labour’s internal complaints process.

Earlier this year the matter was “discharged” because Mr Rowley’s former girlfriend had not allowed a statement outlining her complaints to be shared with him.

Her refusal meant Mr Rowley did not have the opportunity to respond to her allegations.

When challenged about Mr Rowley’s appointment on ITV, Mr Leonard said: “The case against Alex was never prosecuted because there was a failure to engage in the process by the person who made the complaint. So the case was discharged.

“Alex is back, because he is someone who has an extremely high reputation among people in local government.”

Ms Doyle, who was Labour MP for West Dunbartonshire until 2015, posted a tweet alongside a recording of Mr Leonard’s remarks, which said: “It would be pretty ­powerful if the [very good] Labour MSPs on the refreshed frontbench team decided to take a collective stand against this situation.”

Cat Headley, a former Labour candidate, took issue with Mr Leonard’s use of the phrase “failure to engage” when discussing the woman who complained about Mr Rowley.

Ms Headley said: “This is not a good look. Not ever, and especially not now.”

Disquiet over the over the appointment led to Scottish Labour Women’s Movement (SLWM) issuing statement in support of the elevation of Mr Rowley to shadow local government spokesman.

But shortly after the statement was released by SLWM, which includes Mr Rowley’s daughter Danielle Rowley on its steering group, the row ­re-erupted.

Eva Murray, a Labour councillor in Glasgow and a member of the SLMW steering group, said she had not been consulted about the statement and disagreed with it.

“I am supposedly on the steering committee of SLWM. I was not consulted on it,” she tweeted. “In a time of ‘me too’ and more timely the Kavanaugh confirmation, we are absolutely sending the wrong message. Rowley should not have been allowed back into the shadow cabinet.”

The SLWM statement said:  “We are aware that in 2017 there was a complaint made against Alex Rowley by a former partner which was investigated by the police. Mr Rowley referred himself to the Scottish Labour Party for investigation.

“The police found no evidence of wrongdoing and the complainant did not engage with the Scottish Labour Party investigation.

“In these circumstances, we are satisfied that Scottish Labour made all reasonable endeavours to determine the facts and no further action was required. On this basis, we see no reason why Alex Rowley should be precluded from inclusion in the shadow cabinet.”

Mr Leonard’s reshuffle also saw the centrist MSPs Anas Sarwar and Jackie Baillie dismissed from the front bench.