20/09/2017 22:34 BST

Shopworkers' Union Backs Corbyn-Ally In Scotland As Rival Gets Mired In Living Wage Row

Cash-and-carry firm Anas Sarwar has shares in does not pay the real living wage.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Richard Leonard MSP launches his campaign for the Scottish Labour Party leadership

The shopworkers’ union Usdaw has backed Jeremy Corbyn-ally Richard Leonard for Scottish Labour leader after his opponent became embroiled in a wage row, HuffPost UK can reveal. 

Leonard’s rival for the top job, Anas Sarwar, admitted his family’s cash-and-carry firm did not pay its workers the “voluntary” real living wage of £8.45-an-hour, though he stressed he was personally supportive of the rate being mandatory. 

The union would ordinarily opt for a centrist candidate such as Sarwar but has now joined Unite, TSSA and Aslef in throwing its weight Leonard in a sign that the Yorkshireman is taking the lead in the race to replace Kezia Dugdale. 

A spokesman for Usdaw, the union of shop, distributive and allied workers, told HuffPost UK: “I can confirm that Usdaw has nominated Richard Leonard for Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.”

Sarwar, the party’s Holyrood health spokesman,has faced accusations of hypocrisy for backing the real living wage while his family’s firm United Wholesale (Scotland) Ltd - of which Sarwar’s shares are thought to be worth £4m - paid no more than the legal minimum wage of £7.50-an-hour. 

PA Wire/PA Images
Anas Sarwar at his campaign headquarters in Glasgow 

In a gruelling BBC interview, Sarwar told reporters he was not a director of the firm and had “no say” over how it operated, but had received assurances it wanted a “transition to a real living wage for all employees”.

When pressed on the issue, he said: “The difference is that I don’t support a voluntary real living wage.

“I support a mandatory real living wage. I don’t think it is right that the market dictates what a fair day’s pay is. That is why I want it to be a compulsory policy.”

Nicola Sturgeon and her chief of staff were quick to jump on the row after Sarwar said he was on her lawn “every day” during a hustings in Glasgow on Wednesday night, with the First Minister joking he “could mow it occasionally” in return for the higher rate the workers don’t get. 

A source in the Sarwar campaign countered: “We know the SNP fear an Anas victory.” 

Sarwar has also faced criticism for choosing to send his children to a fee-paying school. 

Both Leonard and Sarwar had a private education.  

Unite has come out strongly in support of 55-year-old Central Scotland MSP Leonard. 

Scot Walker, chair of Unite Scotland, said: “We want Labour to take the radical socialist road in Scotland. We support Richard Leonard because we believe he would take us on that journey. We urge Unite members to follow our lead and vote for Richard in the coming election.”

The new leader will be announced on November 18. 

The contest is taking place after the Corbyn surge at the General Election, with the number of Scottish Labour MPs jumping from one to seven, but also after the Scottish Labour Party plumped for Owen Smith when he challenged Corbyn, meaning it will be a test of how far left, if at all, the party north of the border has swung.