Scottish Labour Leadership Election

Party leadership elections are rarely edifying events for any involved. The combative nature of leadership elections pits erstwhile colleagues and friends against each other and exposes any party divisions that have been simmering beneath the surface.

Although it has attracted limited attention south of the border, the Scottish Labour leadership election has been no different. In the context of Corbyn’s rise in England and the re-emergence of the Conservatives as credible political force in Scotland, the Scottish Labour Party is undergoing something of an identity crisis. The party finds itself torn between the populist politics of Jeremy Corbyn, embodied by the leadership candidate Richard Leonard, and the more moderate approach of Anas Sarwar.

Sensitive to the destabilising effects of leadership battles, both candidates have been at pains to commit to re-uniting the party after the election and both have promised to serve in each other’s cabinet. But despite this early display of good faith, the leadership race has been marred by personal attacks and accusations, particularly from elements outside the official campaigns.

Sarwar in particular has been subject to criticism for sending his children to a fee-paying public school and had to relinquish shares in his family company, United Wholesale (Scotland), after it emerged that the business does not pay its employees the real living wage. Meanwhile some of Sarwar’s supporters have accused the union Unite of trying to rig the election in favour of their preferred candidate, Richard Leonard, through a recruitment drive.

All the party in-fighting will be music to the ears of the SNP who now have plenty of ammunition to use against whoever emerges as leader on Saturday. If the bookies’ favourite, Richard Leonard, emerges triumphant, the SNP will be able to characterise Scottish Labour as a ‘Scottish branch’ of the Labour Party, rather than the independent outfit it purports to be. If Sarwar wins, the SNP will lay into his personal background. Whoever wins on Saturday, the Scottish Labour Party – in the short term at least – will be the losers.