Is Labour’s “radical” new leader in Scotland a turning point for the party?

Scottish Labour are being re-launched today with a strong anti-austerity message – but will it be enough to win back voters from the nationalists?

Richard Leonard was elected Labour’s new leader in Scotland a week ago. He’ll use a speech today with Jeremy Corbyn to promise a “radical” left-wing agenda for Scotland. Is Labour about to start taking back lost ground?

“This moment can be a turning point for our party in Scotland but also for the UK as a whole,” Richard Leonard, the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party will say in a speech later today.

Sharing a platform with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Leonard will say “Labour has changed, and now we are determined to change Scotland”.

Leonard’s plan, outlined in his speech, is to emulate in Scotland the successes tactics of the Westminster party and its anti-austerity policies.

A vocal fan of Corbyn, Leonard will aim to bring the Scottish wing of the party in-line with the Westminster leadership. Compared with his predecessor, Kezia Dugdale, who called on the Labour leader to resign last year, the close ties will be a significant change.

Addressing Corbyn, Leonard will say:

“His principles, policies and integrity – along with the energy and passion of hundreds of thousands of new members – has breathed new life into our party. I pledge to do the same here in Scotland.”

Labour saw electoral wipeout in Scotland in the 2015 Westminster elections, losing all but one of its 41 seats to the Scottish National Party (SNP). The party clawed back six more seats in 2017, but Labour has remained in the political wilderness north of the border for the past two years. Leonard’s faces a tough task.

Scottish Labour faces the fundamental challenge of pushing its own anti-austerity message in the face of the SNP’s very similar policies — which they’re fond of attacking.

As Sean Swan writes on the LSE’s Politics and Policy blog: “The basic problem Scottish Labour faces is that for Holyrood the party to beat is the SNP; for Westminster it’s the Tories.”

“If Scottish Labour persists in attacking SNP anti-austerity measures in Holyrood, they cannot expect to have much credibility when they then assume an anti-austerity position themselves when contesting UK general elections as part of UK Labour.”

Scottish Labour’s fortunes ultimately depend on whether the party can provide progressive reasons for a continued union with Britain — if it can successfully distance itself from what Swan calls “Tory and British nationalist Union-Jackery”.

Leonard will have to strike a fine balance between critiquing SNP anti-austerity policies in Holyrood whilst promoting Labour’s own ideas, which look very similar. If he succeeds though, Labour may well inflict a crushing blow on the Scottish nationalists.

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6 Responses to “Is Labour’s “radical” new leader in Scotland a turning point for the party?”

  1. Tony

    Good to see that Leonard opposes nuclear weapons. He and Corbyn need to change Labour’s policy on this so that the party offers a clear anti-nuclear stance at the next general election. Labour needs to offer a choice on this issue rather than the current echo.

  2. BSA

    Labour is only interested in Scotland as a bloc of docile Labour MPs to further their ambitions in England. They are as ignorant and indifferent to Scotland as they have been for fifty years and no one demonstrates that recently better than Corbyn.

  3. BSA

    And as for Leonard, he told us today on BBC Scotland News that Scottish Water should be taken back into public ownership – where it has actually resided for years. The ignorance reflects the lack of genuine engagement with Scotland and goes along with the negative and destructive attitude Labour has displayed for years towards devolution and good governance in Scotland.

  4. Danny Speight

    Scottish Labour’s fortunes ultimately depend on whether the party can provide progressive reasons for a continued union with Britain

    This is good advice if you want to repeat the 2010 election results. Otherwise leave the independence question alone. There is no need to poke a sleeping tiger. If public opinion changes in Scotland in support of another referendum there is no need for the Labour Party to take a strong position. Follow the 1975 EEC referendum tactic rather than the previous independence referendum campaign and maybe not hand over part of our core vote to the SNP like last time.

  5. Heidstaethefire

    You don’t have a core vote. You have a massive sense of entitlement, to such an extent that your new leader didn’t even know that Scottish water is already in public hands. The electorate simply saw through you.

  6. Julia Gibb

    This is a man who has little or no idea what powers are devolved to Scotland. Week after week he makes demands for action on Westminster retained areas.
    “Mr. Shouty” is from another era when loud equated to right.

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