By Bill Heaney
The Scottish Labour Party will have a new leader next month. This follows the resignation of Richard Leonard, who left the post with immediate effect on Thursday.
The poison chalice that is up for grabs will be handed either to Anas Sarwar or Monica Lennon with Jackie Baillie, the Dumbarton MSP and deputy leader of Scottish Labour, stepping aside to allow these two to fight it out.
“Monica Lennon has as much chance of beating Sarwar as she has of her namesake Neil Lennon at Celtic winning the League and landing ten in a row for the Parkhead club,” said one Labour insider.
Another ventured his opinion in typical West of Scotland parlance: “She has two chances, a dug’s and nane.”
Nominations for the post will open for one day next week, with a leader finally declared on 27 February, which many Labour supporters think is too long a lapse in time.
The contest is taking place just a few months ahead of the Scottish Parliament election, which is scheduled to be held on 6 May.
Candidates have until midnight on Sunday to declare their intention to run and will require support from at least four of the party’s MSPs, or its sole Scottish MP, by midday the following Tuesday to be formally nominated.
- Leonard leadership ‘just wasn’t working’
- Richard Leonard quits as Scottish Labour leader
- Richard Leonard: Who is the former Scottish Labour leader?
Scottish Labour members and affiliated supporters will be able to cast their votes from 9 February until ballots close on 26 February. The new leader will be formally announced online on 27 February.
Mr Leonard’s decision to leave means the party is looking for its fifth leader since the independence referendum in 2014 – with Johann Lamont, Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale all having held the job since then.
Speaking at the Fabian Society’s New Year conference, Sir Keir said “the decision to step down was his decision … he’s done the honourable thing, the right thing”.
Asked if he had spoken to Mr Leonard before his resignation, the Labour leader said they spoke “all the time” and their offices were in contact “every day”.
Jackie Baillie, who was Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, has taken charge of the party on an interim basis.
She has been busy in recent weeks as Labour’s member of the Salmond Inquiry at the Scottish Parliament.
The party’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar has been named as a potential front-runner in the contest, should he stand, along with MSP Monica Lennon.
Sarwar has been campaigning for families who have suffered and even lost loved ones while being treated in the defective Queen Elizabeth II University Hospital in Glasgow.
Monica Lennon, who made headlines recently for her campaign to supply free period products to women who could not afford them, told BBC Radio Scotland’s Drivetime programme that she had been having discussions with colleagues but was “ruling nothing in and ruling nothing out” at this stage.
Speculation that Richard Leonard was put under pressure to resign by millionaire business who would agree to sponsor Scottish Labour – but only if he quit – have been strenuously denied.