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18 November 2017

Richard Leonard elected Scottish Labour leader

Leonard went from obscure MSP to left-wing frontrunner in just three months. 

By New Statesman

Richard Leonard has been elected leader of the Scottish Labour party. 

Leonard, 55, a trade unionist and MSP since 2016, emerged from obscurity to become the frontrunner, taking 56.7 per cent of the vote to beat early favourite Anas Sarwar.

In his acceptance speech, Leaonard said he had joined the party 35 years ago, “not because one day I thought I would be standing here, but because the only way to bring change was to combine, and unite, and to campaign to win power”. 

Calling for unity, he added he intended to lead the party as a “movement for real change, a movement for democracy, and yes, as a movement for socialism”.

Thanking Sarwar, he said his opponent would have a “vital role” to play in the party’s future.  

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Although Leonard protested he was too old to be a Corbynista, his campaign was supported by the pro-Jeremy Corbyn grassroots group Momentum, as well as Campaign for Socialism, its left-wing sister group north of the border. He was endorsed by the bulk of constituency Labour parties and trade unions

His victory will be seen as the latest step in the Corbyn project’s consolidation of internal party power, with Leonard telling the New Statesman he condemned “deliberate attempts to delineate the Scottish Labour party from Jeremy Corbyn’s party”. Crucially, Leonard will inherit Kezia Dugdale’s seat on Labour’s National Executive Committee. 

Born in Yorkshire, Leonard is the first English-born leader of the Scottish Labour party. He describes himself as a Labour loyalist, and an admirer of Keir Hardie. He was previously best known for being part of a Scottish Labour study group, the Red Paper Collective.

After Dugdale resigned in August 2017, prominent supporters of Corbyn, such as Alex Rowley and Neil Findlay, ruled themselves out, encouraging the left to rally behind Leonard. 

His policy pledges take advantage of Scotland’s devolved powers, and include a 1 per cent windfall wealth tax on the top 10 per cent, increasing child benefit by £5 a week, and rent controls. However, Labour remains only the third biggest party in Holyrood. 

A more pressing task for Leonard will be to reunite the Scottish party, with many activists slamming a “divisive” leadership campaign, where the two candidates’ comradely tone did not extend to the grassroots social media messages