A rebellion by Scottish Labour’s centrists aimed at toppling their party leader, Richard Leonard, has collapsed after they failed to force through a motion of no confidence in his leadership.
There were accusations of dirty tricks from the rebels when, an hour before the SEC meeting began, party officials deselected an executive member, Cooperative and Socialist Societies representative Jane Prinsley, on the grounds an organisation which nominated her group was no longer affiliated with the party.
Several sources said that was likely to leave the final result tied so the GMB and Usdaw, two influential unions that had previously backed and financed Leonard, decided to abstain.
One union source said the outcome was an “absolute farce. They have had a botched coup about a lame duck leader. They hardly look like a party of government in waiting. Leonard is presiding over the final death throes of the Scottish Labour party.”
In a statement issued as the motion was withdrawn, Leonard insisted he was still the best person to lead Scottish Labour, support for which has slumped to as low as 14% in recent weeks. One recent YouGov poll said 53% of Scottish voters had no opinion of him.
Calling for an end to the “internal plotting”, he added: “I have listened to the concerns expressed about me, I will treat those with respect and humility, and I will fight with every ounce of my being to improve the fortunes of the party in the runup to next year’s election. We need unity not division.”
The rebel motion was tabled after four MSPs at Holyrood, including two who resigned from their frontbench posts, urged him to quit or face a leadership challenge.
They were backed by four Labour peers, including Meta Ramsay, one of the SEC members poised to vote in favour of the no confidence motion. Ian Murray, Scottish Labour’s sole MP and shadow Scottish secretary, was also expected to vote against Leonard.
The result is an embarrassing setback for the party’s centrists, who had been extremely confident they had the numbers to force his resignation or to force a leadership contest.
They will now have to make peace with Leonard and his allies in the party, or again try to unseat him knowing that carries the significant risk of further damaging the party’s standing in the polls if they fail again.
But it also leaves Leonard badly wounded. With the party’s ruling executive split over his suitability as leader, he now no longer has the support of his own union, the GMB, for which he worked for 20 years, nor of Usdaw, the shopworkers’ union.
Unite and Unison had both stated publicly Leonard had their support, although it is understood Unite’s leadership is privately unhappy about his performance.
Neil Findlay, a Labour MSP who ran Leonard’s leadership campaign, said: “Richard can now move forward. The people who have been plotting against him for three years have been humiliated; he can now move forward with the agenda he has always wanted to take forward.”