Politics changed utterly for Labour in Scotland as Corbynite wins leadership

Richard Leonard Credit: PA

There was a time when Scotland was seen by most (not all) in Labour as being part of the mainstream, sensible, moderate left-of-centre of the party.

When the party was being torn apart (as many saw it, not all) by the Bennites and Militant Tendency in the late 70s early 80s, Scotland remained solidly social democratic/democratic socialist - take your pick - in a traditional UK Labour way.

Though there were criticisms from some south of the Border that the Scots kept their heads down in those troubled times, Scotland helped save Labour at that time from oblivion by keeping their representation at Westminster while the Tories were sweeping the board elsewhere.

Richard Leonard Credit: PA

From John Smith to Gordon Brown to Donald Dewar and Robin Cook, the big figures in Scotland may have differed in terms of where they were on the Labour political spectrum but they were never part of what most (not all) called, and still call, the 'far-Left'.

And although there were variations in terms of their political position in the party - some were a bit more to the Left than others - Scottish Labour has never had what most (not all) would call a full-blooded Leftist as leader.

Until now.

With the election of Richard Leonard today everything is changed, changed utterly for Labour in Scotland.

Mr Leonard, who spend most of his life in the trade union movement and was only elected as an MSP last year, is an unabashed, unashamed, unapologetic Left-winger.

And proud of it.

Jeremy Corbyn Credit: PA

Not only is he proud of it but he argues that his form of socialism, like that of his UK leader Jeremy Corbyn, is not some wild Marxist revolutionary programme, but in touch with the mainstream of public opinion, tired of banking crash-driven austerity.

His rival Anas Sarwar, who was comprehensively defeated, could not shake off the tag of being from the Right of the party, try as he might to produce a raft of radical policies, not least on income tax.

Mr Leonard is a supporter of Mr Corbyn and has been on that wing of the party all his life. Consistency, he says. Lacking pragmatism and defying reality his opponents would have said. And without a hope of power in government or party.

Well, on at least one of those counts Mr Leonard's internal party critics have been proved wrong. His challenge now, and it's a massive one, will be to prove them wrong on the second, and try to take Labour from the third party at Holyrood to power.

His first challenge is to try to unite his team at Holyrood. Most of his own MSP colleagues backed Mr Sarwar in what became a bitter contest, which makes putting together a front bench to challenge the government difficult.

A benefit on the other hand for Mr Leonard is that unlike his predecessor Kezia Dugdale, soon to be heading to the jungle for I'm a Celebrity (I kid you not), he is politically in tune with Mr Corbyn.

Kezia Dugdale with Jeremy Corbyn Credit: PA

He will then have to fashion policies to take on the SNP government, and we presume fashion them from a more Left-of-centre perspective.

Mr Leonard's supporters, and we now know they are a majority in the wider party, will see that as a good thing.

The SNP in their view has talked Left but tacked to the Right (or perhaps to be fair centre-Left) and the Leonard-ites (if they can be called that) think Scotland is ready for socialism red in tooth and claw.

We shall see how the SNP respond to this as they head towards making the case for higher income taxes in Scotland than the rest of the UK.

However, I suspect Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney will be glad they are in the middle of this debate, not on one extreme. Nicely triangulated, to use the political wonk term.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Tories will be delighted as they believe that Scots are not as left-of-centre as many say, and so they will benefit from being the only party arguing for taxes to be no higher north of the Border than south of it.

What then of Ms Dugdale? It was clear when she stood down that she was simply fed up with the burden of leading a political party, what some experienced Labour hands often call 'the management of hatred'.

Kezia Dugdale Credit: PA

Ms Dugdale was also obviously not in tune with Mr Corbyn and did not feel it was possible to continue to pretend she was an enthusiastic supporter.

Many of her colleagues were angry with her for throwing in the towel, as they saw it, and thereby paving the way for Mr Leonard to take over.

Now she has said she is off to the jungle to compete in bug-eating competitions with the likes of Boris Johnson's dad Stanley, and has said she wants to stay on as a Labour MSP, the anger has turned to fury.

It's probably just as well for Ms Dugdale that she is heading to the jungle, not back to Holyrood next week to face the wrath of her erstwhile friends and supporters.

For Mr Leonard though the period ahead will be even more challenging than any bush tucker trial.