Richard Leonard’s resignation on Thursday as leader of Scottish Labour comes as the party faces a deep crisis.
During his three years as party leader, Leonard has championed opposition to a second independence referendum and has aligned Scottish Labour firmly with defence of the British state.
The most recent poll also suggested the Tory vote intention for May’s Scottish election has declined. This would put Labour in a position to contest for second place after the Scottish National Party (SNP).
But that’s not because its own support has risen. It sits at a meagre 18 percent.
Leonard rose to the Scottish Labour leadership as the left wing candidate who would support and pursue the set of radical demands put forward by Jeremy Corbyn.
Under his watch, Labour tried to expose the neoliberal agenda at the heart of the Scottish National Party government and there was a shift to supporting some more left wing policies.
But these were highly limited. It was not enough to see a surge in working class support.
In addition the failure to change Labour’s talk around independence continued to cut the party off from most working class people and its former supporters in Scotland.
Leonard’s announcement came after the 18th consecutive poll showed majority support for Scottish independence.
During the Corbyn years, Labour in Scotland did not witness the rapid growth in membership seen in the rest of Britain.
This opened Leonard to attacks from the right, who from the beginning set out to sabotage his leadership. Those who longed for the party to return to the days of Tony Blair publicly undermined him.
In the autumn of 2020, MSPs called for his replacement and tried to organise a vote of no confidence.
Leonard’s departure signals Scottish Labour’s realignment with Keir Starmer’s Labour and his project of rapidly shifting the party to the right.
A former Labour campaigner in Glasgow told Socialist Worker., “Richard has lost key allies as the right of the party purge what remains of the left. Richard has been isolated facing an increasingly hostile party machinery.”
But Leonard’s support for the union and uninspiring failure to put forward radical policies has created the conditions for his removal.
Scottish Labour is now looking for its fifth leader since the independence referendum in 2014. Johann Lamont, Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale have all held the job since then.
The favourites to replace Leonard include Anas Sarwar, a millionaire whose family firm in the past has been reported to not pay staff the living wage.
Another potential new leader is Jackie Baillie, another right winger.
Labour’s long decline in support in Scotland gained momentum with Tony Blair’s embrace of neoliberalism and warmongering. It accelerated after the 2014 independence referendum, where Labour joined efforts with the Tories in a desperate attempt to salvage the union.
Faced with a pandemic that has killed over 5,000 people in Scotland and decimated jobs, working class people in Scotland deserve better than this.
It won’t come from an SNP that has overseen this disaster.
Those left wing activists who remain in Labour should break free from the party machine.
They should embrace the struggle outside Labour for socialism.
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