With the shock resignation of Kezia Dugdale at the start of this month, Scottish Labour is on the hunt for its eighth leader since devolution.
Just two candidates have put their name forward: Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard. The pair now have six weeks to scramble together their reasons for wanting to lead the party before the ballot opens open Friday 27th October. Voting will close on Friday 17th November, with the result to be announced the next day.
Who is each candidate? Why do they want one of the toughest jobs in Scottish politics? And what will they seek to change?
Bookies favourite Anas Sarwar hopes to take over the reins. He previously served as Deputy Leader under Johann Lamont, becoming Acting Leader for just five days after her resignation, before quitting the top job himself. Only months later, Sarwar lost his Westminster seat of Glasgow Central to SNP MP, Alison Thewliss. In 2016, he was placed first on the Glasgow regional list. He is currently the party’s health spokesperson.
Sarwar is the more popular choice among his colleagues so far, with 15 MSPs, MPs and MEPs supporting his nomination, including Jackie Baillie and Iain Gray. His campaign is being co-chaired by Pauline McNeill and Martin Whitfield.
Considered to be of a more centrist persuasion than his opponent, Sarwar has previously held roles within the New Labour group, Progress. He is also a member of the Fabian Society. He followed in his father’s footsteps, who became the MP for Glasgow Central in 1997 amid the New Labour wave. Critics argue he would not be the right person for the job because of the pro-Corbyn nature of the Labour party at present. At the launch of his official campaign, Sarwar urged the party to move on from the “divisions of the past”.
Despite political differences with Corbyn (and his supporters), Sarwar is widely expected to win the election. Indeed, many suggest the fact that Owen Smith beat Corbyn in last year’s leadership election would indicate Scottish Labour aren’t particularly enamoured with their UK Leader – though the sample size for Scottish members offers a different explanation.
As for his campaign focus, Sarwar has emphasised his support for the NHS and said as leader he would formulate a plan to “rescue” it. He also zoned in on tackling child poverty, the gender pay gap and wealth redistribution.
The second candidate for the job is thought to be much more aligned with the UK Leader. Elected for the first time in 2016, Richard Leonard has a strong history with trade unions – his placement on the Central Scotland list is owed to the fact that he was nominated by several of them. Far from an outsider though, he has been a member of Labour for over 30 years and previously served as Chair of Scottish Labour. Under Kezia Dugdale, he became the party’s economy spokesperson.
Little else is known about the leadership contender, having not been in the public eye for too long. Indeed, while we recognise his accent as a Yorkshire one, I have struggled to find out much further detail than that (coming from Yorkshire myself, this investigation has become somewhat of an obsession…)
Favoured by Corbynistas, it would not be wise to rule Leonard out of the race so soon. His nomination was supported by nine MSPs and MPs, with Danielle Rowley and Monica Lennon running his campaign.
His leadership priorities are those that one would expect of a Labour comrade. He spoke about returning to the party’s roots at his campaign launch, including the typical policy pledges of bring rail and the Royal Mail back into public ownership. He also suggested bringing renewable energy into the public sector, enacting legislation to allow workers to buy enterprises and tough action on rising rent.
His success may depend on how many members the party has won back since it started haemorrhaging left-wing votes to the SNP in 2014. Elsewhere, some have suggested that Leonard will struggle to get the Scottish people on-side, querying whether an Englishman could ever be the First Minister of Scotland.
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