Leah Franchetti sets out why she’ll be voting for Richard Leonard rather than Anas Sarwar in the Scottish Labour leadership election.

 

I am not, and never will be, on Labour’s hard-left. I voted for David Miliband in 2010, backed Yvette Cooper five years later and supported Owen Smith during last year’s leadership contest.

I am proud of the achievements of the last Labour government and I don’t believe Tony Blair is the devil incarnate. I was also angered by my party’s delayed reaction to allegations of anti-semitism and want Jeremy Corbyn to do more to reach out beyond his party’s base.

In Scotland, I phone banked for Jim Murphy’s leadership campaign in 2014 and I defer to nobody in my admiration for his successor, Kezia Dugdale. I am a Labour moderate.

Everything in my political background points to me supporting Anas Sarwar to be the next Scottish Labour leader. I admire Anas’ drive and commitment and I attended his campaign launch in Glasgow.

However, in what has been one of my toughest decisions since joining the party, I will be voting for Richard Leonard when the ballot opens.

Anas is an impressive figure, but there is an elephant in the room for Labour members. The media stories about his family’s firm and the decision to send his children to a private school have been damaging for him and for his chances of becoming First Minister.

We can dismiss these articles as partial reporting by a hostile press, but I am not alone in being irritated by the fact the stories are true. We need a credible champion of Labour values to lead us into the next Holyrood election; sadly, the past few weeks have not been kind to Anas in this respect.

The bigger reason for backing Richard is the man himself. He is on the Left, but I dispute the notion he is a Corbynista. Richard stood up to Militant in the 1980s and is not a member of the Campaign for Socialism. I have found it hard to disagree with anything he has said since launching his campaign.

His previous day-job at the GMB – hardly a hotbed of Trotskyism – also fills me with hope. I too work for a trade union and know the job is rarely occupied by dreamers who have little hold on reality. We are too busy representing workers, managing the often painful process of change, and engaging on a pragmatic basis with employers.

Richard also has the advantage in walking Scottish Labour’s electoral tightrope, which requires us to appeal to Yes and No voters.

As Blair McDougall has written recently, our party needs to be “both unequivocally socialist and unambiguous on the union”. For Labour to get a hearing from No voters, we must be resolute in our opposition to a second independence referendum. Both candidates tick this box.

However, Richard has the edge in reaching out to Yes voters. An unjust legacy of the independence referendum is that the Labour figures who helped save our country are unlikely to get a hearing from Yes supporters. Jim Murphy produced an excellent manifesto at the 2015 election, but nearly 50% of the electorate had a closed mind and we got hammered.

I fear Anas is in the same category, unlike Richard whose lower profile, lack of indyref baggage and transformative political agenda will help us in the run up to 2021. Anas will make a great Health Secretary, but in a government led by Richard Leonard.