Boot for Baillie as leftie Leonard decides on shadow cabinet shake-up

Dumbarton and Lomond MSP Jackie Baillie and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who today sacked his economy spokesperson.

BBC Scotland is reporting that two of Scottish Labour’s most prominent MSPs has been sacked from the party’s front bench team.

Anas Sarwar, who lost to Richard Leonard in last year’s leadership contest, has been replaced as health spokesperson by Monica Lennon.

And Jackie Baillie has lost her role as the party’s economy spokeswoman.

Ms Baillie backed Mr Sarwar for the leadership, and is a close ally of former leader Kezia Dugdale.

BBC Scotland understands she was sacked over the phone five minutes before Labour issued a statement confirming the changes.

Mr Sarwar said he had earlier learned through Twitter that he was to be replaced. He was leading for Labour in a health debate in the Holyrood chamber at the time.

Both Ms Baillie and Ms Sarwar have criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the past, and have given their backing to Ms Dugdale in a row over the party withdrawing its funding for her defence in a defamation action brought by the Wings Over Scotland website.

A supporter of Ms Baillie and Mr Sarwar claimed that their removal was based on “factionalism ahead of competence”, adding: “When you’re in trouble you don’t take your two best players off the pitch”.

Scottish Labour’s communications chief, Charlie Mann, also quit on Thursday after just five months in the job, saying he had “decided the role is not for me”.

Confirming his reshuffle, Mr Leonard – who will take on Ms Baillie’s economy brief himself – thanked the outgoing members for their contribution.

He added: “My new shadow cabinet is a blend of skills and experience whose aim is to turn around Scottish Labour’s electoral successes.

“By working together we will take Labour forward. It will give us the best possible chance to win again in Scotland.”

Mr Sarwar, who is Scottish Labour’s only Asian MSP, has been campaigning against Islamophobia in the party after claiming he was the victim of racism during the leadership contest.

In a statement, he said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision to remove him, which he said he had learned of “through Twitter, while I was leading for Labour in a health debate in the Holyrood chamber”.

Mr Sarwar added: “For the sake of all the people who need a Labour government, I wish Richard Leonard and his shadow cabinet all the very best for the future.

“I will continue to serve my constituents tirelessly from the backbenches, campaigning for issues close to my heart including the battle against racism, prejudice and hatred.”

Ms Baillie said: “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve and will continue to be a strong advocate for my constituents – and Labour values. I wish Richard Leonard well for the future.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the sacking of Mr Sarwar and Ms Baillie showed that Labour is “more divided than ever”, and claimed the party had “deliberately removed their best performers from the front bench” as part of a “bewildering and ridiculous political fiasco”.

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