The scale of Unite’s bid to influence the outcome of the Labour leadership contest is emerging with evidence the party is being swamped by members signing up to vote.
Scotland on Sunday understands that one Constituency Labour Party (CLP) with an existing membership of 225 has received an influx of 214 affiliated supporters – of whom 172 are members of Len McCluskey’s union.
Unite has thrown its support behind Richard Leonard, the left wing former GMB organiser who has become the favourite in the contest with Anas Sarwar – the Glasgow MSP is regarded as the more moderate candidate.
The leadership election has proved an acrimonious contest with the role played by Unite becoming one of several controversies to dog the process of replacing Kezia Dugdale as Scottish Labour leader.
Last night a Labour source claimed the Scottish party was in danger of becoming McCluskey’s “branch office”, assuming Scotland’s 72 other CLPs were experiencing a similar surge in Unite affiliated supporters.
“If this is replicated across the country, Scottish Labour risks becoming a branch office – not of UK Labour but of Len McCluskey,” the source said.
Bitterness has resulted from the claims and counter-claims made by supporters of rival candidates over the strategies being used by both camps to sign up new members and supporters to vote in the contest. Under Labour Party rules, party members, affiliated union members and registered supporters are able to take part in the election as long as they signed up prior to 9 October.
The Sarwar camp came under fire when Labour’s Glasgow Southside branch secretary John Cork quit his post after flagging up alleged irregularities, with many applicants using one e-mail address.
Leonard supporters expressed concern at the number of sign-ups with “Asian sounding” names – a remark which led to accusations of racism.
Concerns about the role played by Unite in backing Leonard’s campaign have been raised by former shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray. Murray complained that Unite members were being encouraged to sign up to vote via a mass text message. Members of Sarwar’s camp believe using text messages circumvents Labour rules which requires those wanting to vote to demonstrate they are party supporters.
Pat Rafferty the leader of Unite Scotland said: “Unite has not broken any rules whatsoever about voting in the Scottish Labour Party leadership contest. To allege that we have done is totally false. We think it is good for the democracy of the Labour Party that the unions who are affiliated to Labour take part in the leadership election. That is all Unite has done – advised members who are eligible to vote how they can do that.”