Keir Starmer backs Richard Leonard but says Labour has 'a mountain to climb'
Sir Keir Starmer has said the Labour party has “a mountain to climb” in order to regain the trust of voters in Scotland.
The Labour leader confirmed that Scottish leader Richard Leonard has his support to lead the party into next year’s Scottish election, saying that they would work together to “unite and unify” the party.
He also said he was “frustrated” that the SNP are talking about independence during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starmer made the comments to journalists during his first trip to Scotland as party leader.
The party is trailing the SNP and Scottish Conservatives in opinion polls and Leonard has faced calls from Labour MSPs to stand down before the May 2021 election.
Starmer urged his party to “pull together” instead of “looking inwards”.
He said: “What I want to see here in Scotland is our party to pull together, and to focus on the job in hand, which is what we need to do between now and next May, in relation to the election.
“So that's why I'm here, having the discussions that I have today”.
Starmer met Leonard on Thursday afternoon but did not have plans to meet up with the wider MSP group, he confirmed.
He said that Leonard had his support to remain leader and added that the two enjoy “a very good working relationship”.
He added: “I've got a very good working relationship with Richard, I support Richard and I'll be talking to him about what we need to do in the coming weeks and months with the Labour Party to restore trust in the Labour party here in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.”
Starmer said it was the wrong time for a “divisive” independence referendum and criticised the SNP for talking about independence during the health crisis.
He said: “I am frustrated that the SNP are talking about independence at the moment and that Boris Johnson is talking about Brexit, or at least contemplating breaking international law and opening old wounds, because I feel that the vast majority of people across Scotland and across the UK will be saying concentrate on the job in hand.”
Asked if Scotland was essential to winning a future UK General election, Starmer said that the party “has a mountain to climb, whichever way you look at it”.
He added: “I am determined that we will climb that mountain, but it will be hard graft - inch by inch, yard by yard, all the way through to 2024, restoring trust in the Labour Party as force for good and a force of change.
“The result in December of last year that was devastating. And we need to turn that around.”