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by Niall Christie
SCOTTISH Labour leader Richard Leonard stood down from his position with immediate effect today, just four months ahead of the Holyrood elections.
Mr Leonard, who was elected after defeating fellow MSP Anas Sarwar in 2017, became the fourth party leader north of the border to quit in less than seven years, pledging to continue his work as an MSP in Holyrood.
The decision comes after a failed attempt to force Mr Leonard out in September, with four MSPs citing concerns over the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections.
But this afternoon Mr Leonard announced his departure, thanking his supporters and claiming that the move was “in the best interests” of the party.
He said: “This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the party.
“I retain my faith in the Labour Party as the party that offers hope to people and remains the only vehicle for the realisation of that hope.
“While I step down from the leadership today, the work goes on, and I will play my constructive part as an MSP.”
Tributes have been paid following the departure, with Sir Keir Starmer, who took over from Jeremy Corbyn last year, thanking Mr Leonard for his service to the party and for his “unwavering commitment to the values he believes in.”
The STUC described him as a “friend to Scottish trade unions” and a “champion for workers,” while TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes called him a “tireless campaigner for ordinary working people.”
In a joint statement, the Campaign for Socialism and Momentum said: “We remain resolute that we should go into the May election with the socialist policies that Scotland needs.
“There must be no backtracking in our commitment to a national care service, rent controls, fighting homelessness, poverty and public ownership.”
Mr Leonard’s colleagues have shared their shock at the decision, with socialist MSP Neil Findlay claiming the leader was forced out.
He said: “It looks like a three-year campaign of attrition by those who lost the leadership election and their ‘friends’ – including the constant leaking of stories to the media, the undermining of Richard Leonard and anyone associated with him and the heaping of personal pressure on a decent man – has succeeded.
“These people do not care about the Labour Party or its members, all they care about is their own personal position. These flinching cowards and sneering traitors make me sick.”
Scottish Labour shadow cabinet member Joe Cullinane said: “So another good, decent human being, with a lifetime commitment to fighting for the little guys is ground down by a bunch of hard-nosed political chancers whose sense of self-entitlement is completely nauseating. Our politics is rotten.”
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