Despite withstanding a fierce campaign to dislodge him in September, Richard Leonard has announced his sudden resignation as Scottish Labour leader. The Corbyn loyalist released the following statement:
"I have thought long and hard over the Christmas period about what this crisis means, and the approach Scottish Labour takes to help tackle it. I have also considered what the speculation about my leadership does to our ability to get Labour's message across. This has become a distraction. I have come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party that I step aside as leader of Scottish Labour with immediate effect. While I step down from the leadership today, the work goes on - and I will play my constructive part as an MSP in winning support for Labour's vision of a better future in a democratic economy and a socialist society". Richard Leonard
The decision took everyone by surprise and a swift leadership election will be required if Labour are to avoid going into May's scheduled Holyrood elections without a leader in place. There is a real possibility that Labour could finish third in those elections for the second time, a prospect that would have been unthinkable at the turn of the century, when Labour were in government and miles ahead of all-comers. A new leader so close to the election is unlikely to alter that likelihood, albeit Labour had been closing on the Tories in recent polls.
Holyrood voting intention (Savanta ComRes, 8-13 Jan)
SNP 53% (-2)
Con 19% (-1)
Lab 18% (+2)
LD 8% (+2)
Labour's decline in Scotland since devolution has been swift and has allowed the SNP to rule with a free hand. Make no mistake, Labour are directly to blame for the rise of the separatists. They took Scotland for granted in the same way they took the north of England for granted. Now the third party at Holyrood, they are technically the fourth party at Westminster having returned just one MP for Scotland (the Lib Dems have four).
Whoever takes over from Leonard inherits a poisoned chalice. The Scottish party has now gone through four leaders in ten years and Leonard, for all his faults, was the longest serving of them at three years and two months. With a personality as wooden as Keir Starmer himself, Leonard was never going to inspire a revival and being so closely linked to Corbyn didn't help either. His departure leaves Mark Drakeford as the only vestige of the hard left in a senior position. However, the situation in Wales is a world away from that in Scotland. Thanks to the decline in support for the Conservatives across the UK, Drakeford looks set to hold onto his place following the Senedd election, also scheduled for May.
Richard Leonard quits (STV)
Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie has taken over as acting leader of Scottish Labour until a leadership election takes place.