Supporting nominations from Constituency Labour Parties in the Scottish Labour Party leadership contest closed on 13 October. Richard Leonard had 42, compared with 16 for Anas Sarwar. The right-wing Community trade union backed Sarwar. All other unions which submitted a supporting nomination backed Leonard.
Leonard also has a narrow majority of nominations from the seven Scottish Labour MPs, while Sarwar enjoys a majority of nominations from MSPs and councillors. Leonard is the left-wing candidate in the contest. Although not a member of the Campaign for Socialism (which doubles up as the Scottish “wing” of Momentum), he has a solid track record of promoting left-wing policies and is contesting the election on a leftist platform.
Unlike Sarwar, whose record of political activity scarcely goes beyond having been an MSP for a year and an MP for five years before that, Leonard also has an established record of over three decades of activity in the labour movement. Sarwar presents himself as the “centrist” unity candidate. In fact, he is the rallying point for the most right-wing elements within the party.
It says much about the lack of confidence of the Labour right that its candidate – who called on Corbyn to resign in last year’s leadership contest – now has to present himself as a loyal Corbyn supporter who will help propel Corbyn into Downing Street.
Sarwar’s campaign has failed to pick up traction. Much of the centre ground, and even some of the soft right, have backed Leonard at CLP meetings. This is partly because of Anas Sarwar’s past shares in, and dividends from, his family firm (which fails to recognise a trade union and pay the Scottish Living Wage). And partly because Leonard is seen as “not as bad as”Corbyn. But Leonard’s lead amongst nominations from CLPs and trade unions does not guarantee him victory.
Only a small proportion of Scottish Labour members attend CLP meetings. And recent weeks have seen a substantial influx of new members, under the ”‘special offer” of membership for £1 a month (with no requirement to remain a member longer than the time needed to cast a vote).
The worst of Sarwar’s supporters have now opted for transforming the leadership contest into a re-run of last year’s national contest, by throwing out unfounded allegations with a total disregard for the damage which they inflict on the party itself.
Edinburgh South Labour MP and Progress member Ian Murray has claimed that the election contest was being “rigged” to favour Leonard. He also demanded that Alex Rowley resign as deputy leader because he lacked “impartiality”. The “rigging” allegation related to Unite signing up Labour Party affiliated supporters.
Like all affiliated trade unions, Unite was required to delete its database of affiliated supporters and begin the process from scratch again. Unite made an initial mistake in the procedure for signing up affiliated supporters, which was subsequently rectified. But this was enough for Murray to unleash the allegation of “rigging”. Murray’s attack on Rowley was based on a covert recording of a private conversation in which Rowley said that he backed Leonard. Rather than condemn the covert recording of a private conversation, Murray chose to attack Rowley (whose support for Leonard was already well-known).