This week, Scottish Labour was plunged into yet another crisis as Scottish shadow cabinet members James Kelly and Jenny Marra resigned and called on leader, Richard Leonard, to resign. Seen as the last key figure of the Corbyn movement still in office, many so-called moderates in the Party are keen for him to go. Leonard is the 5th person to lead Scottish Labour over the last decade.
Currently Scottish Labour are third in the polls, behind the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives, seemingly unthinkable twenty years ago, when the Scottish Parliament first opened. Nonetheless, it is clear that the problems surrounding Scottish Labour do not stem from Leonard. In fact the Labour Party have lost seats in every single Scottish parliamentary election, unable to cling onto the legacy of the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
In response to the criticism, Leonard said it was “deeply disappointing that disgruntled MSPs who never supported my leadership” were now trying to “wage an internal war.” Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Leonard said he had received a “huge number of messages of support from right across the party and trade unions.”
Following Kelly and Marra, more have called on Leonard to resign, including Rachel Reeves, Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, who is famous for stating in 2013 that Labour would be tougher than the Tories on benefits claimants. Between 2010 and 2017 it has been estimated that, 120,000 deaths were linked to cuts to health and social care spending. Given this, it is difficult to imagine what Reeves meant.
Meanwhile, usual detractor, Ian Murray, Scottish Labour’s last remaining MP, has been suspiciously quiet. However, in an article released today in the Times, it was revealed that Ian Murray was originally among the group of MPs who famously resigned last year, to form The Independent Group- now consigned to the dustbin of history. A photo was shown of Murray speaking at a rehearsal media conference (shown above). Less than a year later, Murray ran for Deputy Leader of UK Labour.
Responding to the photo, Labour Councillor, and former Scottish Deputy Leader candidate, Matt Kerr, said he was “Not remotely surprised.” Meanwhile, discussing the entire fiasco, Neil Findlay MSP, said “the ONLY thing that matters just now is constitutional politics – without a credible position Scottish Labour is nowhere to be seen. That is the crisis facing the Party. Not one individual’s leadership”. Findlay is seen as one of the most progressive Labour figures at Holyrood and is a key friend of the Morning Star. However, he has unfortunately stated he will not be returning to the Scottish Parliament come the 2021 election.
Which brings it back to the crux of the issue. As Labour seems hell-bent on perpetual decline, it is almost entirely reliant on regional list seats. As we enter into yet another election cycle, this means the Leader’s office holds a great deal of power in determining who tops the list for regional votes, and who is therefore most likely to become an MSP. With right-winger Jackie Baillie now in office as Deputy Leader of the Party, it is clear that this battle is likely to continue. However, as Findlay highlights, the lack of clarity over independence continues to discredit the Party’s position.
If Labour is to have any chance of fighting the SNP, it needs to present a credible alternative to independence with socialist policies at the fore. Another leadership battle, and more infighting will do nothing. Where Corbyn failed to boot out the right wing of the Party, Leonard must succeed. In times like these, it is crucial that Labour are able to present on a united front.