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Left victory in Labour’s Scottish Leadership election

Johann Lamont, the Centre-Left candidate, has won the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party on the first ballot. Anas Sarwar, a vice-chair of Labour’s right-wing party-within-a-party Progress who only replaced his father as the MP for Glasgow Central last year, has been elected deputy-leader.

Lamont had started the contest with the support of a clear majority of MSPs — 20 out of 37 — but the two right-wing candidates had far more support from the Scottish MPs at Westminster, 24 MPs between them compared with Lamont’s seven. However, Lamont added a further 13 votes to her total in the parliamentary section of the college, whilst Ken Macintosh added only five and Tom Harris lost 9.  That net defection from the right of four parliamentarians was just enough to give Lamont a first ballot victory, without which the final result might have been very close indeed as much of Tom Harris’s support would have gone to Macintosh.

Sarwar did rather better for the Right in the Deputy contest in spite of being a Westminster MP rather than an MSP. He started with a majority at both Holyrood and Westminster, and added further to that majority. Ian Davidson, although clearly the main Left challenger from the start, did see his credibility undermined by a failure to secure much support amongst MSPs. He won only two nominations from MSPs as some Left MSPs such as Elaine Murray and Malcolm Chisholm backed the third placed candidate, Lewis Macdonald, and actually lost some of his parliamentary support by the end of the contest.

However, the most worrying aspect of the election is the disparity between voting in the affiliated and individual membership sections. Both Lamont and Davidson secured big majorities in the union section (65% and 61% respectively) whilst even Lamont failed to win a majority amongst individual members by a long way, winning less than 37% in the first ballot — Davidson won just a quarter of that section, whilst Cathy Jamieson won about 43% in the last Leadership election in 2008 (admittedly in the second ballot – Lamont may also have achieved that had this gone to another round).

When faced with such a haemorrhaging of core supporters to the SNP, it is extremely worrying that Labour’s membership is so out-of-step with the party’s trade union base, especially when the membership in Scotland is so small compared wiith other parts of the UK.

Last year, Scottish party membership averaged just 205 per constituency, lower than any other UK region except the Tory heartlands in Southern England. By contrast, the North-East managed 305, Yorkshire 252, the North-West 258, Wales 276 and London 428. The disparities in Labour-held seats are often even grater, with a number of Labour seats in Scotland having as few as 150 or so members. The disparity in activists is probably even greater as PR has deprived Scotland of so many Labour councillors compared with England where first-past-the-post prevails in local government.

Scottish Labour desperately needs more members and Scottish trade unions would do well to persuade more of their members to join the party. “The only way to change Scotland is to change the Scottish Labour Party” said Johann Lamont after the declaration of the result. Quite so.

The detailed results were as follows:

Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Section 1 Section 2
Section 3
Tom Harris 1.78% 3.44% 2.73% 7.95%
Johann Lamont 17.78% 12.18% 21.81% 51.77%
Ken Macintosh 13.78% 17.71% 8.80% 40.28%
Johann Lamont elected

Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

Section 1 Section 2 Section 3
Ian Davidson 4.44% 8.47% 20.37% 33.28%
Lewis Macdonald 6.67% 4.52% 4.434% 15.62%
Anas Sarwar 22.22% 20.34% 8.53% 51.10%
Anas Sarwar elected
Section 1: Parliamentarians
Section 2: Individual Scottish Labour Party members
Section 3: Individual members of affiliated organisations


  1. Robbie Scott says:

    I’m really quite surprised at that result, I thought Macintosh would win. I think her first act as leader should be to banish Ken Clark back down to London or Timbuktu even.

    One reason we did so badly up north in the recent elections is due to the perception of interference from London which really needs to stop. The Scottish Labour Party needs its own separate identity and branding.

    Also I think there is a need maintain talent in Scotland – too much Scottish talent is wasted in England, and i think Westminster is the ultimate prize for the vast majority. We really ought to think about making a term in the Scottish parliament mandatory for any perspective Scottish MP.

  2. Graham Peasantry says:

    Robbie, I fear making a Holyrood term compulsory for Westminster candidates would just reinforce the notion that the big prize is in London.

  3. Robbie Scott says:

    Graham you have a point there but currently perspective candidates just target Westminster which is the problem. At least having a compulsory term would mean Hollyrood benefited from that talent even if it’s only for a while.

    Hollyrood looks like a council, in fact you cold probably find more talent in a typical city/borough council.

  4. Peter Kenyon says:

    Dear Jon

    Would it be too much to ask for actual numbers of people voting in each section of the electoral college?

    Peter Kenyon
    secretary, Labour Democratic Network

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Peter: Unfortunately, the actual numbers are not available. Perhaps that reflects the actual numbers voting. Unfortunate whichever way you look at it.

  5. Mark Gallagher says:

    With respect, and I say this as somebody who voted multiple times for Lamont and Davidson, , she was only the most left-wing candidate because the others are so appallingly rightist ,she is a centrist who doesn’t believe in universal benefits and who supported housing stock transfers, there isn’t any point pretending otherwise , but she was clearly the best candidate available. As for Sarwar, his victory is a straightforward Progress/New Labour one, I was bewildered by some of the support he received.

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