Richard Leonard accused of backflip over Scottish election BME pledge

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has been accused of going back on his word to boost black and ethnic minority representation in Holyrood, as the party prepares to select candidates for next year’s Holyrood elections.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin

Previous actions to ensure BME candidates would be shortlisted have been dropped from the selection process despite a commitment made by Mr Leonard during his campaign to be party leader for increased diversity, saying he would “make sure women, LGBT, BME and disabled candidates are supported and prioritised to stand in any and all elections”.

In a bid to counter accusations of institutional racism within Scottish Labour, Mr Leonard also pledged in his first party conference as leader to tackle the “constant battle against discrimination and racism” faced by black, Asian and minority ethnic members and to “promote equality and diversity in our party”.

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Yet a paper to be presented to the party’s Scottish Executive Committee (SEC), which meets today to plan the selection process for the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, has no mention of how to increase BME candidate numbers. It also fails to mention promoting disabled or LGBT candidates.

And while female candidates are set to be placed top of every regional list to ensure the party sends more women to Holyrood – it excludes Central Scotland where Richard Leonard will top the list.

The paper suggests that while sitting list MSPs will have to undergo an open selection process, they will also have to be interviewed by an SEC panel that could see them de-selected by the decision of just four-people. Currently all but three of Labour’s 23 MSPs are drawn from the regional list.

Party sources say Mr Leonard has failed to live up to his commitments and there have been suggestions the whole list selection process should be ditched.

One Scottish Labour insider said: “It’s incredible that we’ve led the way in terms of boosting women representation among candidates, yet we’re still so far behind when it comes to BME or LGBT representation. We can’t pick and choose which equalities matter.

“There also remains a sneaking suspicion that the leadership wants to find a way to squeeze out Corbyn critics and select more hard left candidates, despite the clear rejection of this in December.

“There needs to be an understanding that the party has moved on from those lost years.”

One former general election candidate Martin McCluskey said since the Scottish Parliament was established, there had only been two male BME MSPs, one openly gay Labour MSP, and the party had never had an MSP who uses a wheelchair.

He said Labour might be ahead of other parties in terms of gender equality, but for other under-represented groups “there are gaping holes in Scottish Labour’s parliamentary representation”.

Another source said automatic shortlisting of BME candidates, introduced for the 2015 general election, had been ditched. The source added: “As well as that, there’s been no move to have a BME rep on the SEC, which was a pledge made by Richard. For BME members it feels that promises made to win the leadership have been reneged on.”

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said the party did not comment on private SEC papers and added: “The Scottish Executive Committee meets regularly to discuss issues of importance to the party and Saturday’s virtual meeting will have agenda items including Scottish Parliament selections, Scottish Labour Conference and the constitution.”

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