Leonard quits as Scottish Labour leader with immediate effect

Richard Leonard Credit: ITV News

Richard Leonard MSP has stood down as leader of the Scottish Labour Party with immediate effect.

The 59-year-old, who had served as the head of the party since 2017, said his decision to "step aside... was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the party".

In a statement he said that speculation about his leadership had become a distraction for the party’s ability to get Labour’s message across.

Leonard, an MSP for Central Scotland, said: “Scotland needs a Labour government now more than ever before. Our National Health Service and public services are at breaking point under the strain of an out-of-control pandemic. 

“Covid is rampant, claiming lives, and striking down so many of our fellow citizens, who are grievously suffering from this awful virus.  

"Workers’ incomes are being squeezed like never before, with job losses rife and businesses going bust. Too many employees go to work day-in and day-out, night-in and night-out leaving them vulnerable to the virus.

The Central Scotland MSP has been leader of the party since 2017. Credit: PA

“Both Governments have mishandled its response to Covid, with devastating consequences not least in our care homes. It is essential now that we have an accelerated vaccine roll out – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to ensure that the most vulnerable and frontline workers are protected against Covid, and that the general population is given greater protection as quickly as possible after that.   

“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.  

“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.”

After news of his resignation, the First Minister Nicola Strurgeon tweeted: "Despite our political differences, I’ve always liked Richard Leonard. He is a decent guy and I wish him well for the future."

More on this as we get it.