Scottish Labour Leadership Election, Put Simply

By Media Director Richard Wood

Scottish Labour is electing its ninth leader since the advent of devolution two decade ago. Here’s the who, what, why and how of the situation.

Why is it happening?

Kezia Dugdale’s announcement to step down as Scottish Labour leader at the tail-end of August took the Scottish political scene by surprise. Her decision to stand aside was made in an exclusive interview with the BBC’s Brian Taylor.

During the interview, she said that:

"I have just come to the conclusion that the best thing for it, the Labour Party, this precious, precious thing that has done so much good in our country, and indeed for me, is to pass that baton on."

Dugdale served as the party’s deputy leader before becoming leader after Jim Murphy led the party to defeat at the 2015 general election. Her leadership was rocked by the 2016 Scottish election, at which Scottish Labour came in third behind the Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Tories, however, her party gained six seats at June’s snap election.

Scottish Labour MSP Anas Sarwar: 'I wasn't only one who was wrong about Jeremy Corbyn' https://t.co/UHkPpFYF9n via @fatimamanji

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) 6 September 2017

When is it happening?

A timetable for the election process was agreed on the 9th September by Labour’s Scottish executive. The key dates are as follows:

  • Nominations open: 11th September
  • Nominations close: 17th September
  • Voting begins: 27th October
  • Voting ends: 17th November
  • Winner announced: 18th November

Who is standing?

Two MSPs have put their names forward so far:

1. Richard Leonard, a former GMB trade union organiser, who is seen as someone on the left of the party;

Towns like Dalkeith are part of our history, but they are also the future of our party. Great to be here with my campaign chair @DaniRowleypic.twitter.com/MDPRyvgDHj

— Richard Leonard (@LabourRichard) 9 September 2017

2. Anas Sarwar, a former dentist-turned-MP-turned MSP, who was originally a Corbyn-critic, but recently said in Channel 4 interview that he was wrong about Corbyn and wants to see him elected prime minister.

We need the values of unity, justice & equality now more than ever. I'll put those values at ❤️of Scotland's future. https://t.co/wiR73qg04I

— Anas Sarwar (@AnasSarwar) 9 September 2017

Both MSPs were only first elected to the Scottish parliament in 2016.

Who can vote?

Three groups of people can vote in the election:

  • Scottish Labour members
  • Scottish Labour affiliates (e.g., affiliated union members)
  • Registered supporters (those who pay a £12 one-off fee to vote)

Quick analysis: who will win?

Richard Leonard is presenting himself as the candidate of “real change”, hoping to win on the back of Corbyn’s surge in popularity at the recent general election. The Guardian recently reported that he called for the nationalisation of renewable energy companies, oil-fields and Scottish rail. However, it is important to bear in mind that Scotland is the only area of the UK that backed Owen Smith in last year’s UK leadership election. According to the Herald, Smith won 6,856 votes ahead of Corbyn’s 6,042. With Leonard being increasingly seen as the “Corbyn candidate”, the fact that Scotland voted for Smith could play into Sarwar’s favour.

When Leonard and Sarwar emerged as the party’s two candidates, Leonard was the bookies’ favourite, but Ladbrokes now offer evens for Sarwar leading the party, slightly shorter that the 5/4 odds offered for a Leonard leadership.

The election could end up being a very close race indeed.

The challenge for the next leader

Scottish Labour’s next leader, whether it be Anas Sarwar or Richard Leonard, has the difficult task of turning their party into an eventual party of government. To do that they will need to displace both the SNP and the Conservatives from their top positions in Scottish politics.

The task is a momentous one as Scottish Labour has gone backwards in every single Scottish parliamentary election since the rebirth of the institution. That all said, a fresh leader, combined with a radical, transformational platform could be the party’s key to winning back Scotland.


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