Anas Sarwar was elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party, becoming the first BAME person to lead a major political party anywhere in the UK. Total vote figures are not yet available.


Candidate pictures are their formal Scottish Parliament MSP picture, attributed to Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament.

Monica Lennon shares both her 2016 entry to Holyrood and the region she represents with Richard Leonard, who she backed in the 2017 leadership election. Lennon has served in Labour’s frontbench team since then, first as spokesperson for Communities and Local Government, then (and currently) for Health and Sport.

Although still a relative newcomer, Lennon has made a particular name for herself with her recently successful member’s bill to massively widen the availability of free period products, and help to tackle period poverty. This was passed at the end of 2020, and means she’s been in the public eye at just the right time for a leadership contest.

She’s also carved out a distinct position within the party on the constitution, arguing that Labour shouldn’t stand in the way of a future Independence referendum. That’s not the same as dropping opposition to Independence itself, and is instead perhaps best understood as an overture to younger people, both within and outwith the party, many of whom are outright supportive of Independence, or at least not actively hostile to it.

That alone might put Lennon somewhat out of the easy Left vs Centre dichotomy here. During his term, Leonard held fast to opposing a referendum, as did those more centrist members of the party who were largely at the helm in 2014 and its aftermath.

Before his election as a fresh face to Holyrood in 2016, Anas Sarwar had served as the MP for Glasgow Central between 2010 and 2015. The seat had previously been held by his father Mohammad Sarwar, who was the first Muslim MP elected anywhere in the UK. From 2011 until 2014, Sarwar served as Deputy Leader under Johann Lamont, opting to resign from that position shortly after Lamont resigned as Leader, in order to allow a totally refreshed leadership team.

As Deputy Leader, he’d played a highly visible role in the 2014 Referendum campaign, going head-to-head with Nicola Sturgeon (then also Depute Leader of her party) on at least one major TV debate. Like all bar one of his Scottish Labour colleagues he lost his seat at the 2015 UK election, but made a successful return to Holyrood the following year.

Appointed as the Health and Sport spokesperson for the party, he was Leonard’s opponent in the 2017 election, aligned more with the Centre of the party. Relations between the two were clearly not brilliant, and Sarwar was on the end of a shock sacking from his spokesperson position in 2018. He made a return to the frontbenches in November last year, taking on the role of Constitution Spokesperson.


The hunt is on for Scottish Labour’s 10th leader of the devolution era.

Richard Leonard, MSP for Central Scotland, had been elected to the leadership in November 2017, succeeding Kezia Dugdale. This was a rapid rise for an MSP who had first been elected in May 2016. Just as Dugdale had, he inherited a party that was a shadow of its former self, having fallen from first to third party status over the course of the previous decade.

The 2017 contest was widely seen as the Scottish front in the Labour party’s ongoing battles between Left and Centre. Leonard himself was seen to lie on the left of the party, whereas his opponent Anas Sarwar has typically been identified with the party’s centrist wing. Leonard won that election by roughly 57% to 43%.

Far from halting under Leonard’s leadership, Scottish Labour’s decline continued. The party lost both its MEPs in the 2019 EU Elections, and 6 of its 7 MPs at the snap UK election in December that same year. Through 2020, Leonard faced repeated calls from within the party to resign, including from MSPs such as James Kelly and Jenny Marra. He strongly resisted these calls, and looked set to continue in post until the Scottish Parliament elections due in May 2021.

However, Leonard announced his resignation suddenly and unexpectedly on the 14th of January, citing concerns that leadership speculation was proving damaging to the party. This has pitched Scottish Labour into a leadership contest right before key elections where they’d be hoping to see their total number of MSPs go upwards for the first time since Holyrood came into being.

Timetable and Process

  • 17th of January
    • Deadline for Declarations of Interest
  • 18th of January
    • Nominations Open – candidates must be nominated by at least 15% of the total number of current Scottish Labour MSPs and MP.
    • This is currently 4 nominations.
  • 19th of January (noon)
    • Nominations close
    • List of candidates published
    • Hustings period opens
    • Supporting nominations (CLPs) open
  • 26th of January
    • Supporting nominations close
  • 9th of February
    • Ballot opens
    • Hustings period closes
  • 26th of February
    • Ballot closes
  • 27th of February
    • Result announced

The ballot will be a one member, one vote of Scottish Labour Party members and Affiliated Supporters – effectively, members of affiliated trade unions who have opted to also take up individual affiliation with the party. As there are only two candidates, it will be a simple first past the post ballot.

MSP & MP Nominations

Both candidates have received the minimum number of nominations required.

  • Claire Baker – MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife
  • Claudia Beamish – MSP for South Scotland
  • Neil Bibby – MSP for West Scotland
  • Sarah Boyack – MSP for Lothian
  • Mary Fee – MSP for West Scotland
  • Iain Gray – MSP for East Lothian
  • Mark Griffin – MSP for Central Scotland
  • Daniel Johnson – MSP for Edinburgh Southern
  • James Kelly – MSP for Glasgow
  • Johann Lamont – MSP for Glasgow
  • Lewis Macdonald – MSP for North East Scotland
  • Jenny Marra – MSP for North East Scotland
  • Pauline McNeill – MSP for Glasgow
  • Ian Murray – MP for Edinburgh South
  • Anas Sarwar – MSP for Glasgow (obviously!)
  • Colin Smyth – MSP for South Scotland
  • David Stewart – MSP for Highlands & Islands
  • Neil Findlay – MSP for Lothian
  • Rhoda Grant – MSP for Highlands & Islands
  • Monica Lennon – MSP for Central Scotland (obviously!)
  • Alex Rowley – MSP for Mid Scotland & Fife
  • Elaine Smith – MSP for Central Scotland
  • Richard Leonard – MSP for Central Scotland and previous Leader. Unlikely to nominate as the outgoing leader.
  • Jackie Baillie – MSP for Dumbarton and Acting Leader. Also unlikely to nominate as a result of being temporarily in the leadership hot seat.

Supporting Nominations

These were the nominations from Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs), councillors and other affiliated organisations. This part of the process closed on the 26th of January. A final check for any errors on the Scottish Labour website will take place on the 27th.

  • CLPs – 22 (out of 73)
    • Almond Valley
    • Aberdeenshire West
    • Angus North and Mearns
    • Argyll and Bute
    • Clackmannanshire and Dunblane
    • Clydesdale
    • Coatbridge and Chryston
    • Cunninghame North
    • Cunninghame South
    • Dundee East (Note: Dundee listed as one CLP on website)
    • Dundee West (Note: Dundee listed as one CLP on website)
    • Edinburgh Central
    • Edinburgh Northern and Leith
    • Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire
    • Falkirk East
    • Glasgow Kelvin
    • Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn
    • Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse
    • Kirkcaldy
    • Mid Fife and Glenrothes
    • North East Fife
    • Renfrewshire North and West
  • Councillors – 36 (out of 239)
  • Unions – 4 (out of 11)
    • CWU
    • TSSA
    • Unison
    • Unite
  • Other Labour Affiliates and Groups – 3 (out of 13)
    • Christians on the Left
    • SEA Scotland
    • Socialist Health Association
  • CLPs – 27 (out of 73)
    • Airdrie and Shotts
    • Angus South
    • Ayr
    • Cumbernauld and Kilsyth
    • Dumbarton
    • Dumfriesshire (Note: D&G listed as one CLP on website)
    • East Kilbride
    • East Lothian
    • Eastwood
    • Na h-Eileanan an Iar
    • Edinburgh Southern
    • Falkirk West
    • Galloway and West Dumfries (Note: D&G listed as one CLP on website)
    • Glasgow Anniesland
    • Glasgow Cathcart
    • Glasgow Provan
    • Glasgow Shettleston
    • Greenock and Inverclyde
    • Inverness and Nairn
    • Midlothian North and Musselburgh
    • Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
    • Moray
    • Motherwell and Wishaw
    • Renfrewshire South
    • Rutherglen
    • Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
    • Strathkelvin and Bearsden
  • Councillors – 90 (out of 239)
  •  Unions – 4 (out of 11)
    • Community
    • GMB
    • NUM
    • USDAW
  • Other Labour Affiliates and Groups – 5 (out of 13)
    • BAME Labour Scotland
    • Jewish Labour Movement
    • Labour Movement for Europe
    • Scottish Co-operative Party
    • SERA

Note: This means the CLP actively decided not to support either candidate.

If you find this or other Ballot Box Scotland output useful and/or interesting, and you can afford to do so, please consider donating to support my work. I love doing this, but it’s a one-man project and takes a lot of time and effort. All donations, no matter how small, are greatly appreciated and extremely helpful.
(About Donations)