Labour's Richard Leonard says anti-English bias may sway voters

The leader of the Scottish Labour party has claimed that some people north of the Border will not vote for him because he is English.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin

Richard Leonard, who was elected as Kezia Dugdale’s replacement in November following her surprise resignation, was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Scotland since the early 1980s.

The MSP, who defeated Anas Sarwar in the race for the leadership, has previously said that when Scotland play England at football or rugby he still supports the country of his birth.

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Asked if he thought being English would prevent Scots voting for him, Mr Leonard said in a newspaper interview: “There is a small group of people for whom that will be an issue.”

He added that he had first become aware of anti-English sentiments among a small minority of Scots in the build- up to the 2014 independence referendum.

“I wrote a blog on the case against an independent state and somebody put a comment on it which was, ‘In truth you would not be welcome in an independent Scotland’.

“I thought that was really chilling – not an overt attack in some senses, but on the other hand really quite a dawn-knock-at-the-door. So there are those elements that exist and I am conscious of that.”

However, Mr Leonard said he was confident that any anti-English bias among some voters would not prevent him being elected as the next First Minister of Scotland in 2021.

“What people are looking for is someone who will stand up for the interests of working people, predominantly,” he said.

“I accept there is an extent to which Scottish politics has become about geography, but I think it should be more about principle. I think we need to break out of this confinement that it’s about where you’re from and ‘You’re not from around here’, which I think is quite a corrosive part of our politics, and get back to ‘These are the ideas’.”

Labour are currently the third largest party at the Scottish Parliament after being leapfrogged by the Conservatives at 2016’s election and Mr Leonard faces a tough task to regain power from the SNP.

However, he said he would not be leader if he did not believe this was “absolutely possible”, adding: “I don’t think it’s all about me. In the end it will come down to whether the Labour Party is credible. “I think part of our credibility comes from whether or not we believe in ourselves and we’ve got a clear and coherent philosophy. We need to get that back.”