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by Louise Wilson
16 December 2021
Richard Leonard: Opponents were rallying again when I decided to quit as Labour leader

Iain McGuinness / Alamy Stock Photo

Richard Leonard: Opponents were rallying again when I decided to quit as Labour leader

Opponents within his party were moving to oust Richard Leonard at the time he announced his resignation, the former Scottish Labour leader has said.

Nearly a year on from his decision to stand down, he has said it was “right” for him to go, but that it was a “political decision” rather than a personal one.

The Central Scotland MSP said he felt it would be easier for the party to get its case across in the election if he stood down, sensing those who had made an “attempted coup”  in the months prior were “rallying again”.

Leonard was elected leader of the party in November 2017, following the resignation of Kezia Dugdale.

But in January 2021, just 16 weeks out from the Scottish Parliament election, he announced he was standing down with immediate effect.

He had faced criticism for his leadership in the months prior, including public calls for his resignation from his own MSP group, including former MSP and current general secretary of the party, James Kelly.

Kelly and others put forward a motion of no confidence in Leonard’s leadership in September which was later withdrawn.

Talking on Politically Speaking, Holyrood’s podcast, Leonard said: “It’s a matter of record that there had been an attempted coup in the autumn the year before, which hadn’t been successful, but there was a sense in which those forces of opposition to me were rallying again.

“It looked like it wasn’t going to go away, we were in the countdown to an extremely important election and I just felt it would be in the best interests of the party if I stood down.

“Do you know what? It wasn’t a personal decision, it was a political decision. I took a judgement about what I thought would best serve the interest of getting across a Labour case in an election to try to win back support for the party I’ve been a member of for nearly 40 years.”

In a wide-ranging interview on his politics, his new-found joy of being a backbencher and his plans to bring forward a member’s bill to promote employee-owned companies, the MSP also admitted Labour did not “exploit” the division between the SNP and Conservatives which had created a gap for an “avowedly pro-devolution party”.

He said: “People voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for devolution. I think that there is a great deal of support for us having powers here, and maybe more powers here, but remaining inside the UK.

“I’ve been a long-time supporter of a more federal approach. Having come out of the European Union, there seems to me to be a compelling case for having a more formalised council of ministers with representatives from Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and the UK sitting around the table, trying to coordinate policy and approaches.

“I think that there is space for the Labour Party as an avowedly pro-devolution party.”

But he also said it was “quite hard to break through” the constitutional debate, particularly since the party is in third place at Holyrood.

He added: “The future, I think, has got to come from an authentic belief that things could be so much better and that the powers that exist in the Scottish Parliament which haven’t be used – whether it’s over industrial policy, whether it’s over housing, whether there are reforms of the provision of care – all of these things could be tackled and there has been an unwillingness to properly get on and tackle them […] There are all these things that should have been addressed, and could have been addressed, by a devolved government and haven’t been.”

Listen to the latest episode of Politically Speaking here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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