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A shift to the left for Labour in Scotland?

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Issue 2580
Richard Leonard (right) joined the CWU unions agency workers campaign recently
Richard Leonard (right) joined the CWU union’s agency workers’ campaign (Pic: @LabourRichard on Twitter)

The new leader of the Scottish Labour Party is set to be named on Saturday—with left-backed candidate Richard Leonard hoping to win the election.

Leonard received far more nominations from Labour Party branches and trade unions. His opponent, Anas Sarwar, won most Labour MPs, MSPs and MEPS.

It’s the same split that led to Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015. In Scotland, as in the rest of Britain, ordinary Labour supporters have shown they want a left wing party.

The Labour establishment has always preferred a party that backs austerity-lite, defence of the British state, war and pandering to racism.

Much of the media coverage during the election has focussed on how acrimonious the campaign has been.

There’s been less focus on the argument—although that’s partly because the big political arguments never really got going.

Leonard’s campaign has more closely echoed the tone of Jeremy Corbyn’s general election and leadership campaigns. But he has resisted being called a “Corbynista”.

His campaign has promised “real change” and a more radical Scottish Labour Party.


Leonard wrote on Sunday, “We are at a turning point. We simply cannot go back to an old style of politics.

“We must go forward learning the lessons of the June general election where we stood on a radical manifesto which offered people hope in a campaign led by Jeremy Corbyn, a principled and consistent leader, who embodied that sense of hope.”

The candidates did have different policies.

But they tended to be differences of scale and emphasis rather than fundamental political disagreements.

In many cases their manifestos were almost identical.

For instance on housing Sarwar said he wanted to build 25,000 homes “social, affordable and private” every year.

Meanwhile Leonard said he wanted “a minimum of 12,000 new social homes for rent each year”.


Sarwar wanted “compulsory purchase orders to tackle rogue landlords” while Leonard wanted “tough rent controls to prevent exploitation by landlords”.

And on child poverty Leonard said he wanted to “increase child benefit by £5 per month for every Scottish child”, while Sarwar wanted to introduce a Scottish child tax credit of £10 a month.

Both wanted grants to help parents pay for school uniforms, and both wanted to end private schools’ exemption from non-domestic tax rates.

The similarities are partly because the party’s left wing membership and success at the general election forced Sarwar to adapt to the left.

His campaign sounded closer to Corbyn’s policies than previous Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale ever did.

One dividing line was over Trident nuclear missiles.

Although it didn’t appear in his manifesto, Leonard had said at hustings that he was opposed to Trident renewal. He added that there must be protection for the workforce.

Sarwar said he was for Trident renewal. He justified this by saying it was what Labour stood for at the general election.

Leonard has backed giving the Scottish government more procurement powers to award contracts to companies with better employment rights for workers.

And he wants workers to be able to buy any business that goes up for sale.

A victory for Leonard, as a candidate associated with a break from the right wing Labour, could help the party recover. But it won’t be enough.

Labour has to be radical enough to end Trident.

And it has prove its commitment to ending austerity by starting with its own councils.

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