The frontrunner to succeed Kezia Dugdale talks business.
Richard Leonard always carries two handkerchiefs. “I had to testify to this in a court case,” he tells me, pulling one out after we retreat from the rain into a coffee shop. “A fellow Labour canvasser had the top of his finger bitten off by a dog. One handkerchief was wrapped around the bottom of his finger and one was placed around the top.”
I meet Leonard, 55, the frontrunner to be the next Scottish Labour leader, in Rutherglen, near Glasgow, where he has been door knocking for a council by-election. He is lanky, with floppy grey hair, a navy suit and a red tie, and speaks softly, with a Yorkshire accent. For decades, he has campaigned for Labour, but only became an MSP – for Central Scotland – in 2016 and was little known outside a circle of left-wing activists.
Then, on 29 August, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale resigned. Like almost everyone in the party, Leonard found out from the news. “I was sitting watching television at home with my wife,” he recalls.
The next day, as high-profile supporters of Jeremy Corbyn (such as 2014 candidate Neil Findlay) ruled themselves out of the race, attention focused on Leonard. But there was a problem. He didn’t even have a Twitter account. “I’ve pointedly abstained,” he says, sipping a cup of tea. His team hastily set up a profile, which he still largely ignores.
The leadership election, the result of which will be announced on 18 November, has become intensely personal. Leonard’s rival candidate, Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar, was forced to relinquish his shares in his family’s cash-and-carry business after it was revealed not to pay employees the voluntary living wage. Allies of Dugdale, meanwhile, have claimed her resignation was prompted by a “plot” against her.
Minutes before I meet Leonard, I discover that Stephen Low, the aide who set up the interview, has had to stand down after issuing a press release describing the comments as “pish”.
“I don’t want the election to be conducted in an uncomradely way,” Leonard tells me. “If anybody involved in my team steps out of line in a way that I think is unacceptable I will deal with that.”
He continues: “I think I am viewed as somebody with a degree of integrity inside the Labour Party. I’m not prepared to see that sacrificed in my name by anybody associated with the campaign.”
The leadership election has also triggered a debate about backgrounds. Both Sarwar and Leonard were educated at private, fee-paying schools (Leonard won a scholarship). But the latter would also be the first English-born Scottish leader in a country known for backing “anyone but England”.
“I’m afraid I can’t do anything about that; it’s a done deal,” Leonard jokes. He moved to Stirling as a student to study politics and economics, and has spent his working life in the Scottish trade union movement. He downplays anti-English hostility, insisting “people are fairly relaxed about it”.
In the race, Leonard is regarded as the …read more
Source:: New Statesman