New Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard yesterday said he would lead the party as a “movement for socialism” as he promised to win back lost voters with his radical policy agenda.
Leonard also promised a zero tolerance approach to “sexism, misogyny and sexual harassment” as he took over the leadership at a time when Westminster and Holyrood politics has been dogged with allegations of politicians acting inappropriately.
The former trade union organiser became the ninth Scottish Labour leader since devolution after comfortably defeating Anas Sarwar in a hard-fought battle for the Scottish Labour leadership.
The victory of the left-winger over the more moderate candidate will secure Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on the party north of the border.
In his victory speech, Leonard said he would lead Scottish Labour “as a movement for real change, a movement for democracy and, yes, a movement for socialism”.
After one of the most bitter leadership elections seen in Scotland, Leonard secured a majority of votes amongst trade unionists and party members to defeat Sarwar.
As expected, Leonard won the vast majority of trade union votes, taking the affiliated category by 3,281 votes compared with 961 for Sarwar. Leonard won by a far narrower margin when it came to Labour members, polling 9,150 (51.8 per cent) compared with 8,514 (48.2 per cent) for Sarwar.
In the registered voters category Leonard polled 38 votes to Sarwar’s 41.
When all votes were tallied up, Leonard was out in front by a clear margin, polling 12,469 (57.6 per cent) compared with Sarwar’s 9,516.
In all 21,994 people voted in the election, 62 per cent of the 35,309 eligible to vote.
Leonard becomes leader at a particularly difficult time for the party.
Divisions between the left and moderate wings of the party have been cruelly exposed during a nine week campaign. And the party is having to cope with the suspension last week of deputy leader Alex Rowley following harassment claims made by a former girlfriend.
In his victory speech at the Glasgow Science Centre, Leonard said he would set up a new independent route to deal with complaints and promised to tackle gender inequality in the party.
He said the under-representation of women would be tackled through the establishment of a Training Academy.
“It is clear though that we need to go further,” he said. “We need to change the very political culture. We need zero tolerance of sexism, misogyny and sexual harassment.
“We need training on equality and diversity for all Labour Party representatives and staff. And we all need an independent route for complaints.”
Leonard said he would unite the party under his vision and paid tribute to his “friend and comrade” Sarwar, saying that his defeated rival would have a “vital role” to play in the party. Sarwar said he would be pleased to serve in Leonard’s team.
Leonard added: “Whoever you voted for, we are one party, we are one movement, and we stand or fall together.”
He said Sarwar had helped ensure that the leadership debate had also been one about ideas. “So that there is now a settled consensus established around a radical policy agenda for the Scottish Labour Party of extending public ownership, of tackling inequality, of more progressive taxation and of a redistribution of power.”
Former Labour voters would be won back by the party being “distinctively Labour, by being confident Labour, and under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, by being principled Labour again”.
The last few weeks saw both campaigns mired in a series of controversies. The integrity of the contest was questioned when Rowley was recorded expressing a preference for Leonard when, as caretaker leader, he was supposed to be neutral. Leonard’s spindoctor Stephen Low stood down after being caught using foul language to describe a comment made by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie.
Sarwar also had a difficult campaign. He relinquished shares in his family’s cash and carry firm after it came under fire for failing to recognise trade unions and to pay the living wage to all employers. He has also been criticised for sending his children to a fee-paying school.
Corbyn congratulated Leonard on being elected, and Sarwar on his energetic campaign.
He said: “Richard’s campaign offered a challenge to the rigged system that has benefited a wealthy elite and showed how he will lead Scottish Labour to transform society.
He added: “I look forward to campaigning with him in Scotland next week as we build a movement that will help our party win in Holyrood and Westminster, to transform our country for the many not the few.”