Here's what people think about Richard Leonard's Scottish Labour leadership victory

Writer Alasdair Clark was at the weekend's Scottish Labour leadership result and got speaking to activists about their new chief

RICHARD LEONARD secured a convincing victory over his centrist opponent Anas Sarwar at the weekend, but after a campaign not found wanting for controversy, Leonard still has significant hurdles to overcome. 

Speaking to Commonspace after the result, supporters of Leonard were triumphant. Privately, many had been admitting that they expected a close result, with only a handful brave enough to predict a confident victory.

Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon said that Leonard had won the battle of ideas, telling Commonspace: "He is the principled, socialist leader many people have yearned for and we go forward as a united movement."

"He is the principled, socialist leader many people have yearned for and we go forward as a united movement." Monica Lennon MSP

The Labour left in Scotland is buoyant after years of hard work. While UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn swept to victory in 2015, Scottish Labour roundly rejected leftwinger Neil Findlay in favour of "ultra-blairite" Jim Murphy only a year previously. 

Ewan Gibbs, a member of Campaign for Socialism, said online that the result was down to the long game played by the Scottish Labour left, in particular its development during and after Findlay’s leadership bid. 

A Scottish Labour councillor in North Lanarkshire was confident of a revival for the party, saying: "Opponents will be afraid of Labour under Leonard as he uses the Scottish Parliament to secure wins for working class people people across Scotland ... ending a decade of SNP hubris."

However SNP supporters remained skeptical. Progressives who have supported the SNP welcomed the result as a shift towards a more authentically progressive direction for Scottish Labour, but said that Leonard will have significant work to do in order to win these key voters over. 

SNP members also pointed out the obvious public recognition hurdle that Leonard will have to contend with in order secure victory at Holyrood. Unlike First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Leonard is relatively unknown to the voting public across Scotland and this issue will likely be one of the party machine’s first projects. 

SNP minister Derek Mackay MSP congratulated Leonard on his victory, but characterised the contest as unedifying and the party "deeply divided". 

SNP minister Derek Mackay MSP congratulated Leonard on his victory, but characterised the contest as unedifying and the party "deeply divided". 

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie was more scathing in his assessment: "Stepping up to lead Scottish Labour at any time is a feat but now is like a journey to the North Pole," he said. "It’s cold, has some dangerous predators and nothing is there when you arrive."

Sarwar accepted his opponent's victory with good grace, stating that Leonard would now have his full support in the party’s fight against the Tories and the SNP. Although most of his supporters adopted his conciliatory tone, some were critical even publicly. The former party organiser in Ian Murray’s constituency, Shonagh Munro, tweeted: "This is still my party and no amount of trotty wee boys and old white men can stop that from being the case."

Leonard’s victory was welcomed south of the border, with pro-Corbyn party members viewing it as a shift towards a more supportive agenda in Scotland for the UK leader. 

Momentum, the campaign organisation borne out of Corbyn’s leadership campaign, congratulated Leonard and the members who campaigned for him, saying: "This is a huge leap forward for Scotland and it means that Labour members will have a set of bold, radical policies they can offer on the doorstep."

"This is a huge leap forward for Scotland and it means that Labour members will have a set of bold, radical policies they can offer on the doorstep." Momentum

With the dust still settling on the result, conversation online and among the party faithful  turned to Leonard’s first steps. Among his first tasks will be the appointment of a shadow cabinet in time for the Scottish Parliament debate on the budget.

After a majority of MSPs backed his opponent, a key decision in the shadow cabinet  will be the party’s business manager. Responsible for party management at Holyrood - including the appointment of senior support staff - incumbent James Kelly is viewed as a savvy internal operator but a staunch Dugdale/Sarwar ally. It is expected that Leonard will replace Kelly with an MSP more supportive of his agenda. 

Scottish Labour will likely dominate the headlines for some weeks to come as Leonard makes his mark on the party.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Labour

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