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In just over a week’s time ballot papers will start dropping for the ninth — yes, ninth — Scottish Labour leadership election since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999.
I would argue that this is the most important of them all. Following a decade of Scottish Labour woe, the party showed at the recent general election that we are very much back in the game.
From a historic low in 2015 when we were reduced to one MP we now have seven MPs and are breathing down the neck of the SNP in at least 20 seats across the country with the Tories and Liberals in our sights too. There are no “no-go” areas in Scotland any more.
Winning these will help Labour win the next election and transform the country and the lives of “the many, not the few.”
Scottish seats could well make the difference in securing Jeremy Corbyn the keys to No 10, with all that that means for the future of our country and the working people who create the wealth.
That is why it is so important that Scottish Labour makes the right decision in this leadership election.
It is a straight contest between former GMB official, now MSP for Central Scotland, Richard Leonard and ex-dentist and MSP for Glasgow Anas Sarwar. While Sarwar has been effective in his role as the party’s shadow health secretary, holding the Scottish government to account for its mishandling of the Scottish NHS, it is my view that Leonard is a much more substantial and credible candidate to become Labour’s next first minister and to be the most effective message carrier for our mantra of “for the many, not the few.”
In his decades of trade union activism, Leonard has represented low-paid female workers, young people and apprentices and skilled craftspeople across sectors as diverse as social care, the whisky industry and shipbuilding.
He has been a consistent, principled and authentic voice throughout his many years of campaigning activity across Scotland.
Only last year when Sarwar joined 12 other MSPs to demand Corbyn’s sacking as Labour leader, Leonard offered the Labour leader his full support. He was right to do so.
What is most important about Leonard isn’t so much his previous work, impressive though that is, it’s the extent of his vision and desire to see real, genuine and lasting change in the structure of the Scottish economy and society.
The Scottish Parliament was supposed to be a bulwark against Tory cuts, centralisation and privatisation. In many ways it has failed to live up to that billing, with the current SNP government acting as a conveyer belt for cuts.
A Leonard-led Scottish Labour government will build an economy that shares wealth and power far more equitably; will invest in a new housebuilding programme paid for by a Scottish national investment bank and using public-sector pension funds; will legislate to control exploitative landlords and make private renting cheaper and more secure; will re-empower local government and look after our most vulnerable people like those young people coming out of care; will drive up wages and increase security at work, using procurement to achieve these ends; will enable and actively promote public ownership; tackle inequality and poverty and once and for all; and take a co-ordinated approach to end the scandal of health inequality.
Leonard won’t tinker around the edges with timid managerialism. It will not be more of the same. Leonard will instead offer the people of Scotland real change that they have been crying out for. He will be his own man, no doubt of that. But he will work with, not against, Corbyn — and together they will transform Scotland and the UK.
Neil Findlay is the Labour MSP for the Lothian region. He recently published the book Socialism and Hope — A Journey Through Turbulent Times, available from socialismandhope.com.
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