RICHARD Leonard has quit as Scottish Labour leader with immediate effect.
Mr Leonard has left his role in a shock move four months before his party contests the Holyrood election.
Last year, a handful of his own MSPs tried to oust him – raising fears about the direction of his leadership and polls suggesting the party is set for a difficult result in May.
Mr Leonard has warned the discussion over his leadership has become “a distraction”, adding “it is in the best intersts of the party” for him to quit.
In a statement, he said: “I have thought long and hard over the Christmas period about what this crisis means, and the approach Scottish Labour takes to help tackle it. I have also considered what the speculation about my leadership does to our ability to get Labour’s message across. This has become a distraction.
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“I have come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party that I step aside as leader of Scottish Labour with immediate effect.
“This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the Party.
“I want to thank all those people who placed their hopes in me, and who worked with me in good times and bad. This experience and the great people I have met will live with me forever. I owe a huge debt in particular to all those party members who work tirelessly for the cause of Labour.
“I retain my faith in the Labour Party as the party that offers hope to people and that remains the only vehicle for the realisation of that hope. Whilst I step down from the leadership today, the work goes on, and I will play my constructive part as an MSP in winning support for Labour’s vision of a better future in a democratic economy and a socialist society.”
Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the UK party, has thanked Mr Leonard for his “unwavering commitment”.
He said: “I would like to thank Richard for his service to our party and his unwavering commitment to the values he believes in.
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“Richard has led Scottish Labour through one of the most challenging and difficult periods in our country’s history, including a general election and the pandemic.
“Even from opposition he has achieved a considerable amount for which he should be very proud.
Richard Leonard with Sir Keir Starmer
“This includes securing a commitment for the creation of a national care service, securing action on a jobs guarantee scheme to deal with youth unemployment, securing a human-rights based public inquiry into the treatment of care home residents during the Covid pandemic and securing support for a Fair Rents Bill to give new rights to tenants.
“He has done so with dedication to the values of our movement.
“I wish Richard the very best for the future as one of our MSPs and know that he will continue to play an important role in Scottish Labour.”