Embattled Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has predicted that the pandemic will create a “new climate of politics” in Scotland that will enable his party to finally halt its “long-term trend” of decline.
He suggested that the coronavirus crisis and its impact on the economy would herald a shift away from the focus on constitutional politics, and claimed his growing number of critics had “misread the mood of the party membership”.
Speaking to Sophy Ridge on Sunday, on Sky News, the Central Scotland MSP vowed to fight on, as he predicted an imminent change on fortunes for Scottish Labour.
He said: “I think that those people who have been calling this week for me to step down have underestimated both my resolve but also the mandate that I got from the Scottish Labour Party.”
Mr Leonard, viewed as an ally of former UK party leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been in the post for almost three years, but Scottish Labour won just one seat at the Westminster election in December.
Is Scottish Labour leader @LabourRichard going to resign?
"No I'm not" he says, and adds colleagues asking him to step down "have underestimated both my resolve" and his mandate from the party to lead and "campaign on a radical agenda".#Ridge pic.twitter.com/vRio78qhyT
— Sophy Ridge on Sunday (@RidgeOnSunday) September 6, 2020
Asked about its slide in the polls, he said: “This has been part of a long-term trend. But look, the situation that we now face, economic, social and health-wise, because of the pandemic, has really changed the dial of politics.
“And I think the people I am speaking to are having sleepless nights because they don’t know, after the Job Retention Scheme comes to an end at the end of October, whether they will have a job or not.
“So we are expecting a huge spike in unemployment. We know that there will be enormous pressures on the National Health Service, for example, we know that there has been a huge crisis in social care.
“All of these, I think are moving people’s focus on from some of these constitutional questions.
“I think that there is a new climate of politics in Scotland which will allow us to start to get our messages across about the need for urgent action to tackle the job crisis, urgent action to make sure we’ve got investment in public services, like the health service.”
Mr Leonard said that some of his colleagues had “never accepted the result when I was elected”, and that “there are some people who misread the mood of the party membership”.
He added: “I was given as strong mandate when I was elected, and I’ve had a huge number of messages of support from right across the Labour Party, and people who would consider themselves on the right or centre of the party. I would consider myself on the left of the Labour Party.
“Right across the board there has been a massive strong message of support for me and my leadership.”