Labour MSPs pile pressure on leader Leonard to quit

Scottish Labour's James Kelly and Mark Griffin both resigned from Richard Leonard's frontbench team.

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A senior Scottish Labour shadow cabinet member has quit – amid calls for leader Richard Leonard to go.

Glasgow MSP James Kelly has stepped down as the party’s justice spokesman, stating he had “no confidence” in Leonard’s ability to shape Labour’s message, strategy and organisation.

He was later joined by Scottish Labour’s social security spokesman Mark Griffin, who cited the party’s leader “extremely concerning” approval ratings.

Another two MSPs have also urged Leonard to quit.

Posting his resignation letter online, Kelly wrote: “I am saying publicly today what I have said to Richard privately. I sincerely believe that if we are to reverse our fortunes Richard must stand down.”

Kelly stated that his view is “shared by other parliamentarians, party members and indeed many members of the public”.

Leonard was elected as Scottish Labour leader in 2017, after his predecessor, Kezia Dugdale, stepped down.

The party is currently third in the opinion polls in Scotland, behind both the SNP and Tories.

In the European elections in May 2019 the party slumped to fifth north of the border, polling less than 10% of the vote.

With MSPs facing another Holyrood election next May, Kelly warned Leonard that recent polling put Labour at an “unacceptably low” level of 14%.

Kelly stated: “Such poll ratings would produce a catastrophic result from which our party would struggle to recover.”

He said he had seen “no evidence” of a plan to reverse the party’s fortunes, telling the leader: “The situation has been apparent for some time and you have failed to turn things round.

“I have no confidence in your ability to shape the party’s message, strategy and organisation.”

North East Scotland MSP Jenny Marra said Labour needed “new energy, a new approach and to turn a new page”.

Fellow MSP Daniel Johnson agreed, saying: “It is not easy speaking out but my colleagues Jenny Marra and James Kelly have done the right thing.

“It is time to recognise the situation we are in and for Richard to step down.”

The Edinburgh Southern MSP said he had attempted to raise concerns and make “constructive suggestions” over Labour’s future, but “these have gone unheeded and there has been no change in approach or performance”.

He added: “Continuing like this will be disastrous for our party and is why I no longer have confidence in Richard Leonard’s leadership.”

In response, Leonard branded the trio “disgruntled MSPs” that have “never supported” his leadership.

He said: “It is deeply disappointing that disgruntled MSPs who never supported my leadership would choose the day when the Scottish Government finally accepted a Labour policy demand of ten years – for a National Care Service – to try and wage an internal war.

“I am leading Scottish Labour into the 2021 elections on a platform of building a National Care Service, establishing a quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme and reviving Scotland’s economy with a Green New Deal. 

“If any party representative thinks an internal faction fight is more important than this agenda, they will have to answer to the party members and the voters whom we serve.”

But the three MSPs were joined later on Wednesday afternoon by Griffin, who told Leonard he no longer had confidence in him as he resigned as a shadow minister.

The fourth Labour MSP to call for him to quit, Griffin wrote to Leonard in a letter: “Your personal approval ratings are extremely concerning.

“Less than half of the voting public know who you are, a majority of those who do have a negative opinion of your leadership and a majority of Scottish Labour voters have a negative opinion of your leadership.”

The Central Scotland MSP added: “I had not planned on making any public intervention but feel compelled to, given the response to colleagues who have expressed their feelings on your leadership. 

“You have labelled colleagues as disgruntled and factional for expressing opinions honestly and acting out of deep concern for the future of the Scottish Labour party, and our ability to effectively represent the communities who depend on us…

“We cannot hope to improve when any criticism, public or private, is dismissed as factional.

“I have had grave concerns about the future of the Scottish Labour party for some time, especially following the disastrous European and general election results.”

Asked about the party tension north of the border, UK Labour leader Keir Starmer denied he had asked Leonard to consider his position.

Starmer’s spokesman said: “This is a matter for Scottish Labour but Keir and Richard have a very good working relationship.

“They are both focused on next year’s Holyrood elections.”