Scottish Labour: Why we should feel sorry for Richard Leonard

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I can’t help it, but I feel sorry for Richard Leonard. On hearing the news of his resignation, Nicola Sturgeon also gave him a virtual wee hug over Twitter, describing the outgoing Scottish Labour leader as a “decent guy”. Of course, there’s no grace in gloating over a rival’s political demise, but the First Minister knew it wasn’t a fair fight. Pity seemed kinder.

Indeed Leonard was considered so invisible that his departure barely made it on to the front page of many national newspapers.

Although fairness, passion and idealism are commendable traits, they mean diddly-squat if you’re found wanting in the charisma department. Politics is a blood sport where wit and humour pack a punch, but if your man is floundering in the ring it’s time to throw the towel in. I’ve no doubt Leonard has committed his life to improving the plight of the poor and creating a better world, but if you’re a bit boring then forget it.

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And if you want evidence for the triumph of personality over principles, then look no further than to the current occupant of No 10 Downing Street. The list of Boris Johnson’s misdemeanours are far too long to cover here, but it’s fair to say he is not exactly a man of high moral standards. For all his lying and cheating he could never be accused of committing the worse crime of all – being bland. Incompetent, yes, nondescript, no.

But most importantly, Johnson – and also Sturgeon  – are both protected by their respective invisible force fields, something Leonard seriously lacked. For Johnson, the force field is Brexit, for Sturgeon, it’s independence. Two colossal and immovable ideologies that have endowed both the PM and FM with electoral super powers and often gifted them a free pass during scandals.

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Leonard’s force field of socialism never stood a chance. George Orwell wrote: “To the ordinary working man, the sort you would meet in any pub on Saturday night, socialism does not mean much more than better wages and nobody bossing you about.”

On that basis, socialism lacks the appeal of Sturgeon’s stirring mantra of a self-governing people making their own decisions in their own interests. Rather than being regarded as a utopian dream worth striving for, socialism is seen as an outdated working-class mythology. Besides, who is working class or middle class anymore? Those waters were muddied decades ago by the rise of university education, property ownership and general affluence. We’re too posh to be proletariat.

It’s much easier to identify yourself as either pro-independence or pro-union, wave a flag, go on a march and fight for freedom, whether it be from London or Brussels.

For the hapless “branch manager” Labour installs next, the binary choice of Yes or No will be the insurmountable obstacle he or she will face. Unless they can convince the Yes-No waverers of the merits of a “third position” on Scotland’s future, a Herculean task if ever there was one, no leader, no matter how decent or even charismatic, will ever attract a decent number of votes.

 

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