Newly-elected Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard secured his convincing victory after an unprecedented campaign by Unite to persuade more trade unionists to vote in the contest, HuffPost UK has learned.
Leftwinger Leonard, who won lavish praise from Jeremy Corbyn at a joint event on Monday, beat his rival Anas Sarwar by 57% to 43%.
Leonard was only a few hundred votes ahead among party members, but clinched the leadership by winning more than three quarters of trade union affiliates in the election.
The former union official – who was backed by all the big unions in Scotland – romped home after a highly effective text message campaign to sign up Unite members to vote in the race.
Of the 10,500 new union affiliates eligible to vote, more than 80% of them (8,800) were members of Unite, internal party figures reveal.
The increase dwarfed the 3,500 new party members signed up by Sarwar, many of them from Glasgow’s Asian community, and appears to have proved decisive in the outcome.
Leonard won the overall race by nearly 3,000 votes, taking 12,469 to Sarwar’s 9,516. Crucially, Leonard won 3,200 votes from union affiliates and his rival managed just 961 votes.
Among party members, he was ahead of Sarwar by 9,150 (51.8%) votes to 8,514 votes (48.2%).
Sarwar supporters had hoped he would benefit from the traditionally ‘centrist’ instincts of the party membership north of the border, but the ‘Corbyn effect’ helped Leonard win key chunks of members as well as union votes.
The contest was triggered by the shock resignation of Kezia Dugdale, who is currently starring on the reality TV show ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’. At stake was not just the Scottish leadership but a crucial place on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee.
Under Scottish Labour rules, members can either join the party as a full member, sign up as a registered supporter or become a supporter of an affiliated trade union.
During an often bitter contest, Sarwar supporters accused Leonard supporters of breaking the rules with the mass text of Unite members, a charge which was rejected by party officials.
Former Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray even claimed that the election process appeared “rigged” to boost Leonard’s chances. The party insisted Unite’s actions were within the rules and those signed up eligible to vote.
In Glasgow on Monday, Corbyn praised Leonard as he unveiled 12 policy reviews for areas such as council funding, housing, children’s health, climate change and a commission on tax reform.
Dugdale repeatedly clashed with Corbyn at the ruling NEC, but the Labour leader said he would “work as closely as possible” with Leonard, adding “the whole party and movement must campaign together”.
Leonard praised Corbyn’s “principles, policies and integrity”, declaring he would now take the fight to the SNP.
His supporters pointed out that when the Sarwar ‘block vote’ of new members was stripped out, Leonard won by 70% to 30% among members.
Even some former backers of Owen Smith, who outpolled Corbyn in Scotland last year, backed Leonard’s vision for a clean break with the party’s recent past.