Richard Leonard quits: Labour’s elections push thrown into chaos as Scottish leader resigns
Richard Leonard has quit as Scottish Labour leader (Image: PA)
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Labour's push for May's crunch elections in Scotland was thrown into chaos last night(THU) when the party's leader quit less than four months from polling day.
Voters north of the border are due to cast ballots on May 6 to elect MSPs to Holyrood.
But Labour languishes in polls and the nationalists are set for a majority – reviving the divisive row about independence.
Richard Leonard, who led Labour in Scotland for three years and was seen as close to former UK-wide chief Jeremy Corbyn, was widely blamed for failing to reverse the party's fortunes in what was once its traditional stronghold.
Many experts believe the party cannot govern at Westminster again without regaining its former heartland or striking a deal with the SNP, which could pave the way for splitting the UK.
Announcing his resignation, Mr Leonard said: "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.
He led Labour in Scotland for three years and was seen as close to Jeremy Corbyn
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"This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the party."
Mr Leonard, 59, was unable to re-establish his party's dominance in Scotland.
Labour was crushed north of the border in the 2015 general election as the SNP won all but three constituencies, leaving Labour with just one MP.
Eight months earlier, Scots rejected independence at a referendum when they voted by 55% to 45% to remain part of the UK.
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Labour recovered slightly at the 2017 election, but lost six of its seven Scottish MPs at the December 2019 ballot when the SNP claimed 48 of the nation's 59 seats.
Paying tribute to Mr Leonard last night(THU), Keir Starmer said he had led with “dedication to the values of our movement”.
He added: "Richard has led Scottish Labour through one of the most challenging and difficult periods in our country’s history, including a general election and the pandemic.
“Even from opposition he has achieved a considerable amount for which he should be very proud.”