MSP Monica Lennon joins Anas Sarwar in race to lead Scottish Labour

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Bid by successful campaigner for free period products prevents ‘coronation’ of sole other candidate

Scottish Labour Health Spokesperson Monica Lennon
Health spokesperson Monica Lennon announced her bid to lead Labour at Holyrood only hours before the deadline. Photograph: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA
Health spokesperson Monica Lennon announced her bid to lead Labour at Holyrood only hours before the deadline. Photograph: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA
Scotland correspondent

Last modified on Sun 17 Jan 2021 19.23 EST

Monica Lennon, the MSP who led the successful campaign for Scotland to become the first country to provide free, universal access to period products, has announced her aim to be the next leader of Scottish Labour, challenging Anas Sarwar for the position.

Confirming her intention to replace Richard Leonard, who resigned last Thursday, just hours before the midnight deadline for potential candidates, Lennon, who is currently her party’s health spokesperson, requires support from at least four of the party’s MSPs or its sole Scottish MP by midday on Tuesday to be formally nominated.

Before her declaration, Sarwar, the centrist MSP who was recently made Scottish Labour’s constitution spokesman and who lost to Leonard in the last leadership contest in 2017, was the only candidate. He announced his own plans to run in the Observer, and has already secured nominations from eight Holyrood colleagues.

Making her announcement on Twitter, Lennon – who was first elected to Holyrood in 2016 and enjoys strong grassroots support – wrote: “Following discussions with party members, I have decided to put my name forward to lead the Scottish Labour party. Our members deserve to have their say about the best way to take forward our vision for a fairer and more equal Scotland.”

The election of Scottish Labour’s fifth leader in a decade comes after Leonard stood down, suggesting speculation about his leadership had become “a distraction”. Many in the party were taken by surprise at the timing of his decision, with Labour trailing the Scottish National party by at least 35 points in opinion polls and at risk of losing a dozen or more seats in May’s Scottish parliament elections.

Leonard is believed to have made his decision after losing the confidence of trade union allies, including his own union, GMB Scotland. He narrowly survived a short-lived rebellion over his leadership by fellow MSPs last September.

Writing for the Observer, Sarwar said that he had gained a new perspective on party politics and decided “we spend too much time highlighting our differences, rather than focusing on what unites us”.

He went on: “I firmly believe we cannot go back to society as it was before the pandemic – insecure work, hollowed-out public services, an underfunded health service, and the constant focus on another independence referendum when there’s far more important things we need to be dealing with.”

Before Lennon’s announcement, several Scottish Labour sources said that an unopposed coronation would not serve any new leader who would require a mandate to take the radical action required to overhaul the party’s fortunes.

On Saturday, the party’s executive agreed to a condensed timescale for any contest, with the Holyrood elections less than four months away. A new leader is due to be in place by the end of February.