Analysis: Leonard looks strong in Scottish Labour leader race, but it's far from over

Writer and activist Alasdair Clark has been following the Scottish Labour leadership race

FOR Labour hacks, the last week has been comparable to watching election coverage at 11:30pm on polling night – trying to interpret the early signals as a sign of the result but knowing it could change by 2am.
 
The left candidate, Richard Leonard, appears to be gaining a majority of backing outwith the Holyrood MSP group, but his campaign still seems uneasy about what the next week or so may bring. That said, the negative media revelations about rival candidate Anas Sarwar seem to have benefited Leonard, with more moderate members claiming they are relaxed about him winning.
 
Local Labour parties and trade unions can now back candidates with supporting nominations, and although these have no effect the final vote, they do offer an early look into who is gaining support among the Labour selectorate and the influential union vote. 

Below: Scottish Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar (main image: Richard Leonard)

Sarwar, who Labour insiders suggest will be looking to receive a majority of support from local parties in Glasgow to feel secure, received an early blow when Glasgow Anniesland and Glasgow Kelvin opted for his opponent. 

In another blow, super-union Unite revealed it signed up nearly 3,000 new members who will have a vote in the election. Sarwar warned against dirty tricks and said he hoped the "spirit of the rules" would be respected.
 
However, insiders from Leonard’s campaign have urged against complacency, conceding that Sarwar is a renowned operator who will adapt and run a smart campaign, aided by his close friend and former director of operations at Better Together, Kate Watson, who is respected as a shrewd campaigner. 

Although the long period in which people have to sign up for a vote was seen to help Leonard, Sarwar’s ability to sign up large numbers of his supporters is well known and this decision by Scottish Labour's executive was, in reality, a win for both candidates.
 
The interim leader of the party in Scotland, Alex Rowley, who is taking a neutral stance alongside Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird, appeared to lay into Sarwar at last weeks FMQs, making a strategic reference to millionaires within politics. Further questions have been raised over his true allegiances after a secret recording from the Labour party conference in Brighton appeared to reveal Rowley leaning heavily towards Leonard.

READ MORE: Scottish Labour leadership race takes shape as Sarwar and Leonard enter contest

Speaking to Commonspace, Lesley Laird confirmed she will take no side in the contest and felt the recent hustings in Fife proved either candidate could continue Labour’s Scottish revival.
 
Both hustings in Glasgow and Fife so far concluded with little controversy, with both candidates often agreeing with each other as they responded to questions from party members. 

Questions relating to the candidate's personal life or financial affairs were ruled out of order by the chair - likely a result of the continued media attention Sarwar has received about his business interests and his decision to send his children to private schools.
 
Sarwar responded to that criticism by relinquishing his shares in United Wholesale, the company embroiled in controversy over its failure to pay staff a Living Wage, and signed them over to his children. This move bolstered the mood among his supporters online who had struggled to defend the link.
 
The contest is far from over and while Leonard appears to have a strong advantage currently, much like whichever party is leading the seat tally early on election night he still has to win many key battles to feel secure of a win.
 
For more news and analysis on the Scottish Labour leadership campaign, follow @alasdair_clark on Twitter.

Pictures courtesy of Scottish Labour

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