Monica Lennon says her top priority will be tackling child poverty if she wins Scottish Labour leadership

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Monica Lennon has set out her priorities if she becomes the next Scottish Labour leader, as she insisted she is in the running for the party’s top job on merit.

Some have suggested her rival for the post, Anas Sarwar, is the favourite to succeed Richard Leonard, who resigned earlier this month, but Ms Lennon said she is an “equal contender”.

The winner of the leadership election will be announced in four weeks, and Ms Lennon said tackling child poverty will be her top priority in the role.

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She also said action is needed to tackle the attainment gap in schools, and to help the “lockdown generation” of children who have suffered a “year of lost learning” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking about the contest with Mr Sarwar, Ms Lennon told the PA news agency: “I see us as equal candidates.

“We are two colleagues who came into the Scottish Parliament at the same time, he had five years in Westminster, I had five years in local government, so in terms of our number of years in elected politics, our background is similar.

“I am here as an equal contender. I do believe it is right for Scottish Labour Party members to have a choice – but I am not just in this contest to make up the numbers. I think I am an equal candidate, I am here on merit.

“I have heard a few people say ‘she doesn’t have enough experience yet’ – that’s something that women hear throughout our lives, we’re either too young or too old. I want to push back against that everyday sexism.”

Ms Lennon, currently Labour’s health spokeswoman at Holyrood, pledged her aim as party leader will be “about ending child poverty within a decade, and as making as much progress towards that within five years”.

She added: “The impact of the pandemic is going to hurt our young people the most, so we have got this lockdown generation who have had a year of lost learning and are coming into a labour market where job opportunities are not there. It doesn’t need to be that way.”

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She said there needs to be more additional support staff in classrooms across Scotland, and she also called for action to tackle issues such as the cost of music lessons and other in-school costs.

Ms Lennon said: “As we come through the pandemic and get young people back into school physically, we have to tackle the cost of the school day, because that is a real worry for parents, especially those on low incomes and single parent families.

“It’s a scandal that young people miss out on learning musical instruments because their parents can’t afford to pay for music tuition within schools.

“For young people who are struggling with confidence, self-esteem, being part of a band, a music club, being able to express yourself through music, is so, so important and it is also important for young people’s learning. I just feel angry that opportunity is taken away from young working class kids.

“These are priorities for me – it’s about ending child poverty, closing that attainment gap and really making sure every young person gets the best chance at life.”

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