Analysis: Leonard consolidates his leadership

The decision by the Scottish Labour executive to reject a coalition with the Conservative Party in Aberdeen and recommend expulsion for the Labour group in question is the latest in a line of quiet victories which have consolidated Richard Leonard’s leadership of the party.

The decision by the Scottish Labour executive to reject a coalition with the Conservative Party in Aberdeen and recommend expulsion for the Labour group in question is the latest in a line of quiet victories which have consolidated Richard Leonard’s leadership of the party.

The outright rejection of any cooperation between Labour and the Conservatives, even at a local level, was a purposeful decision with wide reaching consequences. The fallout from the Better Together campaign, where Labour campaigned alongside other unionist parties, was brutal.

In 2015, the party lost 40 of its 41 seats, mostly thanks to switchers to the SNP. The Aberdeen councillors claimed that they had got a ‘good deal’ which would have allowed them to implement most of their manifesto, but the party executive disagreed, both with the specifics of the deal and the political ramifications of working with the party’s principal opponents. This decision has settled that question.

The extremely well coordinated motion to back membership of the Single Market at Scottish Labour conference was the leader’s first real test, and it was comprehensively defeated, with the motion’s authors even advocating a vote for the compromise Leadership position. The Scottish Labour Campaign for the Single Market was well staffed and directed, but ultimately even many supporters of the motion saw it as a yardstick for backing the leadership.


Then there was the uncontested election of Lesley Laird as the party’s deputy leader. While officially neutral, informed sources assure us that this was the preferred outcome of the leader’s office. The warding off of potential other candidates was impressive in a party where internal elections have been incredibly fractious, including Leonard’s own. After years of new leaders, election fatigue has resigned a lot of internal opponents, and party unity is now the order of the day.


But not everyone is happy. Prominent figures on Scottish Labour’s right, like Duncan Hothersall of Labour Hame, have come out emphatically against the decision to bar the Aberdeen Labour group from forming a council with the Tories.

It is a measure of the distance between the Scottish Party and its peers down south, where Labour moderates would never seek to enter any sort of alliance with the Conservatives for reasons of partisanship alone. Over a decade of Nationalist government has blurred political enmities in Scotland, but Leonard is seeking to realign Scottish Politics along the left-right axis. And recent significant moments consolidating his leadership has helped in that mission.

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