Scottish Labour frustrated with Richard Leonard's cabinet delay

Richard Leonard's delay in appointing a Scottish Labour front bench team is causing frustration within the party and leading to speculation that he is waiting to give Alex Rowley a job.
Insiders speculate Richard Leonard is waiting for Alex Rowley to be cleared. Picture: John DevlinInsiders speculate Richard Leonard is waiting for Alex Rowley to be cleared. Picture: John Devlin
Insiders speculate Richard Leonard is waiting for Alex Rowley to be cleared. Picture: John Devlin

Scotland on Sunday understands that senior figures in Scottish Labour believe the new leader risks losing any momentum built up by his victory over Anas Sarwar in the party’s leadership contest.

Leonard was elected the new Scottish Labour leader three weeks ago, but has yet to put his own stamp on the party’s front bench.

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“It is perplexing,” a Labour insider told Scotland on Sunday. “There has been no explanation as to why there has been this delay. There is a theory that they are waiting for Rowley to be cleared so that he can be given something big.”

Rowley acted as caretaker leader following Kezia Dugdale’s sudden resignation. During the leadership campaign, Rowley was embroiled in controversy when he admitted his preference was for Leonard to beat Sarwar, even though he was supposed to maintain a neutral stance as acting leader. His view came to light in a conversation that was secretly recorded at Labour conference.

Since then Rowley has been suspended by Labour while an investigation is conducted into allegations that he bombarded his former partner with abusive messages during a three-year harassment campaign.

Rowley has denied any wrong-doing and has vowed to clear his name.

As Scottish Labour’s best known politician, Dugdale is also a contender for a front bench position. But she has been absent from Holyrood while taking part in I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!.

Yesterday, Dugdale insisted she would devote her life to the party as she dampened speculation that she would defect to the SNP. Some have suggested that Dugdale’s absence may have contributed to Leonard’s decision to take his time.

But a Labour insider said: “I would be surprised if this was about Kez. I’m not sure if she wants a prime position and I’m not sure if Richard wants to give her one. But the delay does seem incredibly disorganised and it is ironic that someone who stood on a platform of real change doesn’t seem to have any idea of what or who they want to change. Politically, it doesn’t make any sense because you lose all sense of momentum.”

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Richard Leonard has been meeting Labour MSPs on a one-to-one basis and will announce his Shadow Cabinet in due course. Alex Rowley has been suspended from the Labour group, pending an investigation. We don’t comment on ongoing investigations.”