Richard Leonard pleas for unity as leadership voting closes

Leader candidates Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin
Leader candidates Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin
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Richard Leonard said it was time for the Scottish Labour party to unite just hours before the result of the leadership contest is announced.

Mr Leonard, the left-winger regarded as the front-runner in the leadership race, made his plea ahead of Saturday’s announcement of the result of his battle with Anas Sarwar.

Both candidates issued statements thanking their supporters at the conclusion of a bitter ten-week campaign, marked by a series of controversies. Mr Leonard said he had run a campaign “rooted in Labour values from the grassroots up”, which had shifted the debate in the Scottish party.

“Now is the time for the Party to come together to take the fight to the SNP and the Tories, for all of those people in all of those communities who need Labour back in power,” Mr Leonard said in an eve of poll message.

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Mr Leonard’s strategists downplayed his chances of defeating Mr Sarwar in the race for the Scottish Labour leadership. An internal memo prepared by Mr Leonard’s campaign organiser claimed it would be “a massive stretch” for him to win, despite him being regarded as favourite to succeed Kezia Dugdale.

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Throughout the campaign, it has been assumed the left winger and former union organiser would ride home on the back of Corbynista support and trade union voters.

The memo, however, warns that Mr Sarwar has a “much higher profile” than Mr Leonard and concludes the result will come down to the number of trade unionists who turn out to vote.

The integrity of the contest was questioned when then acting Labour leader Alex Rowley was recorded expressing a preference for Mr Leonard when he was supposed to be neutral. Mr Leonard’s spin doctor Stephen Low resigned after using foul language to describe a comment made by Labour MSP Jackie Baillie.

It has also been a difficult campaign for Mr Sarwar, who relinquished shares in the Sarwar cash and carry business after it came under fire for failing to pay the living wage.

Yesterday Mr Sarwar said he was immensely proud of leading a positive campaign and promised to “work tirelessly” for the “many, not the few”.

Ms Dugdale meanwhile warned her successor will have to walk a tightrope between backing Jeremy Corbyn’s agenda and insisting on the party’s Scottish identity north of the Border.

“We will continue to fail the people who need Labour most if we don’t prove ... that we’ve learnt the lessons of the 2014 referendum,” she said.