Family Background – Richard Leonard – Labour Party (List) Member of Scottish Parliament
Born in 1962, in Buckrose, Yorkshire he was an intelligent boy who was fortunate to gain a local authority scholarship providing the finance needed to ensure his education at the well regarded, Pocklington School, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, from 1973-80.
The end of his time at school came just as Thatcher’s policies were beginning to bite in the North East of England. His father lost his job and was forced to move south to gain work, forcing Richard to decide where his future would be. He chose to move to Scotland, taking up an offer from Stirling University, to study for a degree in politics.
At university he first joined the Labour Party then took on the role of president of the Students’ Association, and actively engaged in the many protests against Thatcher’s right wing policies which were decimating Scotland. His future was decided by his choices.
He married Kathryn in 1989. They had one son, b1995 in Paisley. They divorced in 2000.
He married divorcee, Karen in 2011. The couple reside in Paisley together with his son and Karen’s daughter from her previous marriage.
Karen is a senior office holder with the GMB which helps Richard keep his finger on the pulse of Union politics.
Trades Union Activist
After university he was employed, for 6 years, by the left wing Labour politician, Alex Falconer (MEP) as a UK Treasury financed Research Assistant.
He then took up the post of Assistant Secretary of the S.T.U.C. where he was responsible for economic affairs.
In 1996 he left the S.T.U.C. taking on the role of “Political Officer” for the G.M.B. union, representing workers in manufacturing, commercial and public services across Scotland.
He was elected to the Labour Party Scottish Executive Committee, in 1997, a duty which also ensured his appointment to the role of Chairman of the Scottish Labour Party between 2002 and 2003.
He campaigned for Tony Blair, but became disillusioned and drifted away from the “New Labour” government (but retained his position on the Scottish Executive Committee) after Blair took the party to the “right” of politics and the country into war with Iraq.
Politics as a career
The failure to win another term of office at Westminster in the 2010 General Election brought with it a left-right wing battle for control of the Party in Scotland and sparked his interest in getting into mainstream politics.
But although he had 25 years experience of Trades Union business his exposure to politics was very limited and in his first attempt at getting into Holyrood he was the unsuccessful candidate for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in the 2011 Scottish Parliament election. He had not been included on the Labour Party list and that option was also denied him, much to the chagrin of the GMB.
Beyond 2011, the Labour Party in Scotland retained its UK unionist policies including many failed pig-headed campaigns against the SNP government allowing their real opponents, the Tory party to overtake it as the official opposition at Holyrood. A once great party reduced to an afterthought destined for the dustbin of history.
Against this scenario he decided to seek office once more, but with built in assurances he would be elected to Holyrood.
His bid for election was endorsed by the all powerful “Unite” union, which, using its influence had forced through a change in the candidate selection process which meant that sitting MSP’s were no longer guaranteed top spots on the regional list. He subsequently took first place on the Central Scotland regional list, bypassing all incumbent Labour MSP.s. In the 2016 Scottish Parliament election he gained a seat in Holyrood as a List MSP. The left wing had regained control of the party.
By August 2017 the authority of Keiza Dugdale, as leader of the party had been eroded beyond repair (largely due to the abuse of her position) and she resigned sparking a war of words over claims of dirty tricks.
She had told the BBC there had been a “lot of internal problems” in the party ahead of her sudden resignation.
Her allies also claimed there was a “plot” against her after interim leader Alex Rowley had been caught on tape backing the leadership candidate Richard Leonard.
Adding smoke to the fires of unrest, on the very day of her resignation Jeremy Corbyn, at the Brighton conference, in a speech, thanked Dugdale for her work then said: “Labour is on the way back in Scotland”.
Rowley the king-maker
Alec Rowley (interim party leader) was accused of plotting to get rid of Dugdale with fellow left-winger Leonard.
The interim leader, who had vowed not to endorse either candidate in the leadership race, had been caught on tape, (unaware he was being recorded) prior to a Brighton Conference fringe event saying that Mr Leonard was “the best candidate”. Overheard speaking to a student who had recognized him, he said:
“Although I’m neutral in the leadership I also believe that Richard Leonard has everything that we need to win in 2021. I really do. So when, to our surprise, the job became vacant, it just seemed to me that from a Left perspective, the person that was most suited to do that job would be Richard Leonard.”
The student then said he had read in newspapers that Neil Findlay – another pro-Corbyn MSP – had been the favoured candidate of lefties.
Rowley said: “No, no – for some time now I’ve thought he (Leonard) was the best candidate. And most people within the left in Scotland I think thought likewise.”
Asked by the student what made Leonard the best man for the job, Rowley said:
“I think, erm, I think he’s, his solid grounding in the Labour Party. His views have never changed over many years in terms of coming from the Left. He agrees that we need to develop an industrial strategy – we need a vision for Scotland that sets out the jobs and investment.”
Rowley then talked about how Leonard had the “intellectual” ability for the job. And he then said Sarwar would “last maybe four years or whatever” if he won.
Rowley – whose daughter Danielle, a Labour MP, is running Leonard’s campaign – also said party figures “privately didn’t believe Kezia would be there” for the next Holyrood election in 2021, saying that “our view was that Richard was the best person and therefore we should go with that plan”.
He also said he had been a backer of Leonard “for some time now”, but stressed that “we certainly weren’t putting any pressure on it”.
The Labour right- wing hits out
Describing Rowley’s statement as “hypocrisy” and “incredibly disappointing” Jackie Baillie, Labour MSP, a backer of Jeremy Corbyn critic Sarwar, said there was “evidence of a plot going on behind the scenes for months” against Dugdale’s leadership, calling it “a complete betrayal of the membership and every value we hold dear”.
She later told BBC Scotland: “Richard Leonard may deny this, but there are people within his campaign team who have clearly been involved. I think he would want to distance himself from them.”
This was echoed by another Sarwar-backing MSP, Daniel Johnson, who said that the “admission of a plot is shocking and unacceptable”.
The party’s MPs were also drawn into the row, with Martin Whitfield saying Leonard had “questions to answer” over the affair, while Ms Rowley insisted that her father had “always been very supportive” of Dugdale.
The Labour left wing wing hits back
A spokesman for Leonard’s campaign team said: “If there were any attempts to undermine Kezia – they did not involve Richard and he knew nothing of them. Any statements that he did are completely false.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Alex was having what he believed to be a private conversation with a student and a political activist. He has not and will not publicly back a candidate.
Baillie’s comments were decried by Leonard-supporting Neil Findlay MSP , as “barrel-scraping desperation”. (the sun)
Campaign for Socialism dictates party policy – lets fix things with an away day
Divisions within the party emerged as Labour MSPs met for an “away day” excursion at the Holyrood MacDonald hotel, in the shadow of Holyrood. An event arranged before Dugdale quit but before the battle to succeed her dominated discussions.
A source said: “it’s now clear elected politicians are moving behind Central list MSP Leonard. I am resigned to seeing trade union votes move solidly behind Englishman Leonard, thanks to his 20 years’ service as a GMB official.
The recently formed group has members at just about every control level of the party. De-selection beckons for any councillor, MSP or MP not onside as left wingers within constituencies assert their authority. A Sarwar supporter said: “It’s a coup. They know they will face deselection and a Corbynite candidate could easily be moved up the list at the next election.
They want to save their jobs and that means we’re looking at an Englishman nobody outside the union movement has heard of leading Scottish Labour.
Leonard was at the peak of his powers in the Labour Party in Scotland, in the period 1996-2004. His inner circle of like minded colleagues included Jack McConnnell, Alex Rowley, Neil Lindsay and Gordon Brown. Events have gone full circle and it appears his time has come again.
8 Feb 1997: Blair’s wild bunch. The Scottish Labour Party
In most of Britain, politicians were obsessed by the general election. Many Scottish Labour politicians had their minds on another election at least two years away: the election to the Scottish parliament which Labour had promised if it won power at Westminster.
Many senior Labour figures were seriously worried by a growing power struggle in the party north of the border. If unchecked, it could imperil devolution rekindling calls for full Scottish independence.
Intent on dealing with the potential trouble a new committee was formed with a remit to draw up new rules for choosing candidates for the Scottish parliament. It would be these rules that would determine which Labour activists would be elected to Holyrood. The policy back-fired badly with the growth of the left-wing in and “New Labour” no longer rules.
4 Jul 1998: Donald Dewar and the Scottish Labour Party faced a challenge from the Scottish National Party
In Blair’s impending cabinet reshuffle, one unexpected problem loomed large. What to do about Donald Dewar, the Scottish secretary. Unexpected, because a few months ago, no minister’s stock was higher. He had delivered an emphatic “Yes” in the referendum on the Scottish parliament and had been skillful steering the highly complicated set-up bill through Westminster. But, in Scotland, everything was falling apart. Disgruntled Labour Party members who had failed to be selected as potential Labour candidates for the Scottish elections were in revolt.
10 Feb 2002: As Blair battled with Labour’s oldest allies, Jack McConnell faced a choice in Scotland: follow the UK way or nail his colours to the traditional mast.
The case for Scottish home rule was based on the idea that the nation was different. Yet, less than two years after devolution, it was England that was turning into a foreign land. With Tony Blair leading the charge for reformers against wreckers, the dominant part of the UK was changing fast while Scotland was becoming a bastion of stagnation.
The period found Blair doing what he did best: taking on the movement he nominally led. Hostilities were meant to be opened with the speech he was supposed to make to the TUC that could have gone down as a watershed in British politics but ended up taking on far greater symbolism. Instead it will be seen as the day that defined Blair’s second term.
30 Sep 2002: Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour Party Chairman Signals Split With Blair Policies
Leonard, chairman of Scottish Labour called for socialism to become the party’s rallying-call during next year’s Holyrood elections – signalling a deep and damaging split with Blair and the party in England he, an ally of Jack McConnell, has said the party needed to go to the polls being “less apologetic and less defensive about socialism”. It needed to “rediscover its soul”.
His comments infuriated Blair, who vowed to press ahead with controversial public sector reforms – despite damning criticism from union leaders. Blair also faced embarrassment at the party conference over the issue, he and Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, signalled their determination to continue with changes including extension of Private Finance Initiatives.
22 Apr 2014: Leonard on the wrong side of supporting the Labour campaign against independence
Nation-wide branch “Skills Development Scotland” held a Yes/No debate.
Leonard, GMB’s political officer represented the “No” campaign, United for Labour, and went head-to-head with Richie Venton of Trade Unionists for Independence. “Yes” emerged the popular choice of the night.
Branch Secretary, Derek Cheyne, said: “It was a really good debate – I think a lot of people really engaged and we had a great turn out as well. I’ve got to say, I think that most of the questions from the floor were very pro-yes. We’ve not canvassed on whether our members are yes or no, but I got the feeling tonight Yes was dominant. I hope it has energized our members, that they become more involved whether it’s yes or no – that’s entirely up to them, because my union has taken a more neutral stance, adding, But as I said – tonight seemed to be quite positively on the Yes side.”
Richie Venton said: “It was an excellent debate – there were some forceful arguments, but very respectful. For me, probably the most significant factor is that trade unionists spelt out that the struggle for “Yes” is driving towards the conclusion that we need radical change in society and that will build the basis for a future shaping of Scotland in an entirely different direction – to favour the working class.”
Trident – Scottish Labour Party Decide the Policy or does it?
Conference voted 70% to 30% in favour of “not seeking a replacement for Trident and abandoning plans to spend billions on a new generation of nuclear weapons.”
Note: The Labour Party’s current policy is to support Trident, backed by its party conference. Corbyn has said that the policy would be reviewed by any future Labour government. Leonard supports the GMB position which is to retain Trident.
17 Sep 2017: Leonard vows to rediscover Socialism
Leonard is an internationalist who believes in a labour movement built on the principles of solidarity and collectivism. His goal in life is to actively participate in the reconstruction of Scottish society based on the values of democratic socialism. Labour would never form a pact with the SNP nor back a second independence referendum under his leadership
He vowed a Labour government, under his leadership would redistribute power, introducing an industrial strategy for full employment, tough rent controls, a workers’ right to buy their companies and the nationalizing of public services such as Scot Rail and Royal Mail.
He also backed the UK Labour leadership’s policy on Brexit, for a long-term transition period with Britain in the single market. (highbeam)
As a member of the Labour party Leonard is expected to take and abide by the instructions of the party whip. This means he can never support nor devise policies that are not agreed by his UK masters. His leadership will only realize his aspiration to be the branch manager for Labour in Scotland.
Economic policies that benefit voters in England are the only ones he will be allowed to promote. Policies designed to meet Scottish needs and circumstances can only be committed to by a party answerable to Scottish voters and he isn’t a member of such a party.