A shock reshuffle of Scottish Labour’s frontbench by leader Richard Leonard has been dubbed a “purge of the moderates”.
The Jeremy Corbyn ally sacked his health spokesman Anas Sarwar and the highly-regarded campaigning MSP Jackie Baillie, who served as a Scottish Government minister under Donald Dewar, has also been removed as shadow economy secretary.
Leonard said the reshuffle would “refresh” the party north of the border to “focus on unity and the public, not ourselves and internal battles”.
But he came under fire when Sarwar – who ran against Leonard in a bid to become Scottish Labour leader – claimed he discovered he had been sacked via social media, while leading a debate on health in the Scottish Parliament.
A source loyal to Leonard and Corbyn said Sarwar was “lying” and had been “doing all sorts to undermine Richard”.
They told HuffPost UK: “Go and find any tweet saying he was sacked – you won’t find any – you will find speculation but he is lying . The reality is his people have never accepted Sarwar lost the leadership.”
But a source close to the moderates said Leonard’s reshuffle was a “bewildering, ill-judged and crass decision” aimed at “purging the party of anyone who doesn’t blindly follow Corbyn’s politics” and many within the party are said to be outraged.
The reshuffle follows news that Labour has refused to foot former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s legal bills as she fights a defamation case brought by nationalist blogger Stuart Campbell, better known as Wings Over Scotland.
Leonard released a statement once the reshuffle was complete, which revealed former Unison Scotland officer Dave Watson was to join as a policy advisor.
Neil Findlay, the Midlothian MSP at the heart of Scottish Labour’s left-wing, has also been appointed the parliamentary party’s business manager.
Alex Rowley also made a return to the frontbench as local government spokesman and rising star Monica Lennon has taken Sarwar’s place as health spokesperson.
A working group would “ensure that we draw on a wider and more representative group of candidates for 2021”, he said – a statement interpreted by some as a sign deselections could loom.
Leonard added: “Labour support is recovering in Scotland – we have increased our support from where we were just a couple of years ago. But we understand much more needs to be done; we have to do better in convincing people of our message. So change does not stop at the shadow cabinet.
“I have today asked Lesley Laird to carry out a review, reporting to me, of Scottish Labour’s organisation and operations to ensure that we are fully battle-ready for 2021. I want to thank our staff who work so hard and I know that the outcome of this review will help them and everyone in Scottish Labour deliver our shared objectives.”
Speaking after the reshuffle, Dumbarton MSP Baillie said: “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve and will continue to be a strong advocate for my constituents – and Labour values. I wish Richard Leonard well for the future.”
It comes as Scottish Labour’s main rival for votes, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP, prepares to meet for its annual conference in Glasgow.
The new Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet in full:
Richard Leonard, Leader,also leading on the economy brief
Lesley Laird, Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland
Claire Baker, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs
Claudia Beamish, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform
Neil Findlay, Business Manager, Party Liaison, Constitutional Relations
Rhoda Grant, Shadow Cabinet secretary for Rural Economy
Iain Gray, Shadow Cabinet secretary for Education and Skills
Daniel Johnson, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice
James Kelly, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Monica Lennon, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport
Pauline McNeil, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Equalities, Housing and Social Security
Elaine Smith, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Eradication of Poverty and Inequality
Colin Smyth, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Connectivity and Transport
Alex Rowley, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government