Leonard urged to ‘consider position’ – but says he is party’s ‘best chance’

Richard Leonard has insisted the “best chance” Scottish Labour has is to unite behind him – despite a member of the party’s UK shadow cabinet joining calls for him to consider his position.

Rachel Reeves spoke out the day after four MSPs – James Kelly, Jenny Marra, Daniel Johnson and Mark Griffin – publicly called on Mr Leonard to go.

Mr Leonard, who became Scottish Labour leader in 2017, branded them “disgruntled”.

But Ms Reeves, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told Sky News: “I think that Richard Leonard needs to think about his position.

“The opinion polls in Scotland are pretty dire for Labour, we’ve got important elections next year.”

Holyrood elections take place in May 2021, with Scottish Labour currently third in the opinion polls north of the border, well behind Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.

Meanwhile, the party lost all but one of its seats in Scotland in the general election last December.

While Ms Reeves stressed the decision is for Scottish Labour to make, she added Mr Leonard should “consider his position and do what he thinks is right for Scotland and for Scottish Labour”.

Mr Leonard hit back, saying: “Rachel Reeves is not a member of the Scottish Labour Party and I am elected by members of the Scottish Labour Party – that is who I am accountable to.

“They elected me back in 2017 to lead the Scottish Labour Party into the May 2021 Scottish Parliament elections; that is what I am on course to doing.”

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said he had received a “huge number of messages of support from right across the party, the trade unions”.

And he added: “I am confident I have got the backing of the members of the Scottish Labour Party, who elected me just under three years ago.”

Mr Leonard insisted Labour’s “best chance” in next May’s Holyrood elections is to unite behind his leadership.

And he added he is confident that, as polling day approaches, “more and more” people will turn to his party.

He said: “I think the political environment is changing because of the pandemic, I think people are re-evaluating their priorities, and I am sure as people get nearer to the election next year they will understand that the next five years, the next Scottish Government, the next Scottish Parliament’s priorities will need to be on recovering the economy, tackling the jobs crisis and investing in public services like our National Health Service.

“They’re the priorities the people have got, they’re the priorities of the Scottish Labour Party; that is why I am determined that, as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, we remain outward-looking.”

He continued: “The best chance we’ve got is to unite behind me, to go forward on that policy agenda I set out.

“I don’t under-estimate the scale of the challenge we face, but I have got faith in the Labour Party, I’ve got faith in the values we stand for, I have got faith in the policy ideas we will offer the people.

“I am convinced that, when we get closer to the election, as the policy agenda is defined, the choices that people face are defined, I think that more and more of them will turn to the Scottish Labour Party.”