Rebellious MSPs 'underestimate my resolve' says under-fire Scottish Labour leader
Pressure has been building on Mr Leonard for the last week, sparked by the resignation of his justice spokesman James Kelly and compounded by calls for his own resignation from disgruntled MSPs and Labour peers.
However, speaking on Sky News’ programme Ridge on Sunday, the MSP for central Scotland said the decline of the Labour party was a long term problem and not one of his making.
Recent polls see Scottish Labour sitting comfortably third behind the Scottish Conservatives and a huge distance behind the SNP just eight months out from the Scottish Parliament elections.
Mr Leonard said he had a “strong mandate” to lead Scottish Labour and said he understood concern at the decline of the once-dominant party but added it “has been part of a long-term trend” that has seen five Scottish Labour leaders in the six years before his 2017 election.
He said: "I think there are some people who misread the mood of the party membership.
“I think those people who have calling this week for me to step down have underestimated both my resolve and the mandate that I got from the members of the Scottish Labour party.
"Prior to my election as the leader just under three years ago we had had five leaders of the Scottish Labour party in six years and so the mandate that I was given by the members when they convincingly elected me to be leader was to campaign on a radical agenda but it was also to be the leader of the Scottish Labour party going into the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.”
When asked about the position of the party in the polls, Mr Leonard said the decline of Scottish Labour was “part of a long-term trend” but claimed the pandemic and impact of Covid-19 had “really changed the dial of politics” and was moving people’s attention away from constitutional questions.
He added: “When I inherited the party it was in third place, it is still in third place. We’ve got an opportunity here to start to make real progress and rest assured I will be campaigning for every seat as we go into the elections next year.
"I will be touring the country over the next few months speaking to people about the jobs crisis, about what we need to do to solve the youth unemployment spike that we are likely to face.”
Mr Leonard declined to answer whether an SNP majority next year should be considered a mandate for another independence referendum, but said the Scottish Government’s focus should be on recovery from the impact of the pandemic.
He added: “The priority for the next Scottish Parliament and the next Scottish Government should not be around constitutional questions, it needs to be about solving those social and economic questions, and that’s why I’ve said that we will go into those elections next year opposed to a second independence referendum.”
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