Scottish Labour to announce new leader

Richard Leonard and Anas SarwarImage copyright PA
Image caption The contest between Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar has exposed deep divisions within the party

Scottish Labour is to announce its new party leader after a bitter battle to succeed Kezia Dugdale, who resigned from the role in August.

Party members have been choosing between centrist Anas Sarwar and his left-wing rival Richard Leonard.

The contest has been marred by personal attacks, accusations of plots and claims of underhand voting tactics.

The party’s interim leader, Alex Rowley, was suspended earlier this week over allegations about his conduct.

Voting in the leadership contest closed on Friday, with the winner due to be confirmed at an event in the Glasgow Science Centre at about 11:00.

Voters had to be either full members of the party, signed up as a registered supporter or a supporter of an attached trade union – which led to controversy as both candidates raced to register as many supporters as possible.

Who are the candidates?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Leonard is the odds-on favourite to become the next leader after winning the support of trade unions, including Unite

Bookmakers have Richard Leonard as the clear favourite to become the party’s next leader after he secured the support of all the major trade unions, including Unite – which has run a concerted campaign to encourage as many of its members as possible to back him.

The Central Scotland MSP is widely respected within the Labour movement, but had a relatively-low public profile before being persuaded to stand for the leadership.

He has argued that people are “hungry for change”, but believes that can only be delivered through “socialism and democracy” rather than “nationalism or patriotism.”

And he has firmly ruled out any prospect of a future coalition with the SNP, saying “there will be no ground ceded to nationalism at the expense of progressive socialism under my leadership”.

The former GMB union official was born and raised in England, and had a private education – which some critics have claimed could prove problematic for him.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Sarwar was said to have signed up thousands of supporters in time for the leadership vote

The leadership campaign of Mr Leonard’s rival in the contest, Anas Sarwar, got off to a rough start after it emerged his family’s business did not pay all of its staff the living wage of £8.45 an hour.

The revelation left Mr Sarwar – whose minority shareholding in United Wholesale (Scotland) was said to be worth £4.8m – facing accusations that he was “one of the few” rather than “one of the many”.

The Glasgow MSP eventually relinquished all of his shares in order to “demonstrate his commitment to public service”.

Mr Sarwar has also been criticised by opponents for sending his children to a £10,000-per-pupil private school, and for previously signing a letter opposing Mr Corbyn’s bid for re-election as Labour leader.

Despite the controversy, Mr Sarwar, who was once the party’s deputy leader, is said to enjoy the support of the majority of Scottish Labour parliamentarians.

He has said he wants to become first minister in order to deliver equality rather than simply talking about fighting for it, and warned the SNP that Labour was going to “park our tanks on Nicola Sturgeon’s lawn”.

What sparked the leadership contest?

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Image caption Kezia Dugdale had opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader

Ms Dugdale became the third Scottish Labour leader to quit since the independence referendum in September 2014 when she resigned suddenly on 29 August – almost exactly two years after succeeding Jim Murphy in the role.

At the time, Ms Dugdale said she wanted to “pass on the baton” to someone else, and denied suggestions that she had been forced out by supporters of Mr Corbyn, who she had openly criticised in the past.

But she later said it would be right to assume that “a lot of internal problems” were the reason she did not tell her deputy, Mr Rowley, that she was quitting until just a few minutes beforehand.

What challenges does the winner face?

Image copyright Scottish Labour
Image caption Mr Rowley has been suspended by the party while an investigation is carried out into the allegations against him

The final week of the leadership contest was overshadowed by Mr Rowley stepping down from his interim and deputy leader roles after the Scottish Sun published allegations that he had sent abusive text messages to a former partner.

Mr Rowley denies the claims, but has been suspended by the party while an investigation is carried out.

He had been absent from the Scottish Parliament for the previous two weeks, with party bosses citing a chest infection as the reason.

There have been claims that the party knew of the allegations against Mr Rowley for several weeks, but only suspended him once they appeared in the media.

War of words

The leadership contest itself suggests that Scottish Labour – which is now the third largest party at Holyrood behind the SNP and Conservatives – remains deeply divided.

A public war of words erupted between the rival camps in September after Mr Rowley was secretly recorded discussing the leadership election with a party member while queuing for a fringe event.

The row unfolded as Mr Corbyn was telling the UK party’s conference that Labour was “on the way back in Scotland” thanks to its “unifying socialist message”.

Meanwhile, supporters of both candidates have raised concerns over the sign-up process for those eligible to vote, with accusations of unfair tactics on both sides.

Whoever ultimately wins the contest looks to have a tough task on their hands to unite the rival factions and make the party a credible challenger to the SNP in time for the next Scottish Parliament election in 2021.

Even surviving in the job that long would be something of an achievement, given that the winner will become the party’s fourth leader in little over three years.

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