Well the votes are in and the winner announced…no, it’s not the final result of ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here!’, of which more later, but the result of the Scottish Labour leadership contest.
After one of the most bitter leadership elections seen in Scotland, left-winger Richard Leonard comfortably defeated the moderate candidate, Anas Sarwar. It is a win that is seen as extending Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on the party north of the border.
As expected, Leonard won the vast majority of trade union votes, while he won by a far narrower margin when it came to Labour members. When all votes were tallied up, Leonard was out in front by a clear margin, polling 12,469 (57.6 per cent) compared with Sarwar’s 9,516.
The heralding of Leonard’s win was more than a little overshadowed however by the announcement from former Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, that she will temporarily leave Holyrood and join Ant and Dec in the ‘celebrity’ jungle. One of the first acts of Mr Leonard’s leadership will be to decide whether she should be suspended from the party or not.
As for Anas Sarwar, he handled defeat with exceptional dignity, pledging to work with and for Richard Leonard without caveat. His campaign was however wounded right at the start by a controversy over his family’s wealth and choice of private education for his offspring.
In his victory speech, Leonard said he would lead Scottish Labour as a movement for real change, a movement for democracy and, yes, a movement for socialism. He has promised to win back lost voters with his radical policy agenda.
Leonard becomes leader at a particularly difficult time for the party. The former trade union organiser has become the ninth Scottish Labour leader since devolution and has major challenges ahead if he is to lead his party on the long road to victory, also noting that he only secured the support of a handful of his fellow MSPs.
Divisions between the left and moderate wings of the party have been cruelly exposed during a nine week campaign and the party has been beset by a variety of allegations of sexual harassment. To address this Leonard has promised a zero tolerance approach to “sexism, misogyny and sexual harassment”.
He has also pledged to follow an avowedly left wing agenda. This includes wanting to extend public ownership, to increase workers’ control, to increase public spending, to raise taxes on the rich, including via a wealth tax, to pursue a Socialist industrial policy with a focus on manufacturing and to end inequality.
The Labour victor now faces the twin challenges of supplying detail – for example, on tax – to accompany his rhetoric; and then promoting said policies to a sceptical electorate, weary of political promises.
If he is to win Leonard needs to set out a bold and radical agenda, delivering a strong and wide appeal to voters. Time will tell whether this newly crowned king of the jungle will continue to roar, or the roar will simply end up as a whimper.