Leah Franchetti: Reshuffles are a fact of life – time for Labour to roll its sleeves up

Ben Wray

Leah Franchetti (@leahfranchetti), vice-chair of the Shettleston Labour Party and on the steering group of the Scottish Labour Women’s Movement, responds to Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s reshuffle on Thursday [4 October], where centrist MSPs Jackie Baillie and Anas Sarwar were booted out of the shadow cabinet

THE instinct of the Labour Party is, if there’s a problem, change the leader, sit back, fold your arms and wait to be disappointed because you’re sure it’s not going to deliver. 

This isn’t my assessment of the challenges of leadership, but that of Johann Lamont (by that time former Scottish Labour leader) in a BBC interview from 2015. 

It is under a year since Richard Leonard was elected as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party and less than three years before the next Scottish Parliament election. Today, Richard Leonard has decisively exercised his power to reshuffle the shadow cabinet team in the Scottish Parliament. Reshuffles are a fact of life in politics and it is impossible to envisage a process where a few egos aren’t bruised along the way.

I’m pleased to see continued commitment towards a gender balance and that ‘time-served’ experience does not appear to have played a part in decision making, with the talents of bright individuals such as Daniel Johnson and Monica Lennon being recognised in the Justice and Health portfolios.  Iain Gray will continue in Education after forcing John Swinney into a u-turn over his unnecessary Education Bill and Pauline McNeill sees her role widened to include Equalities. 

However, Richard Leonard did something far more profound yesterday [4 October], and it was nothing to do with modifying the job remits of the shadow cabinet. It was an intervention which made me proud to be Labour yet frustrated we’re out of power. This week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that 25 per cent of Scotland’s children live in relative poverty. (Where I live, the figure nudges closer to 59 per cent – hardly believable in 2018). 

ANALYSIS: Have SNP and Labour switched sides in the universalism v means-testing debate?

At First Minister’s Questions, Richard relentlessly challenged Nicola Sturgeon to support the Give Me 5 campaign which will help lift thousands of Scottish youngsters out of poverty. You can watch the exchange online but here’s the spoiler: Scotland’s First Minister refused to take action and entered into whatabouttery’s greatest hits about why she couldn’t do it. I was enraged to hear the FM state it was around 20,000 children who would be affected. (Actually the number is closer to 30,000 children according to the Child Poverty Action Group.)

Scottish Labour has made a commitment that we will raise child benefit but the reality is, regardless of today’s reshuffle, our party is in third place in the polls. We have to be in government if we are going to deliver transformational change. We urgently need a rethink in our priorities and if Richard Leonard believes he needs to reshuffle the shadow cabinet to achieve this then I will support him. Bruised egos on the backbenches will ease but tonight, children in Scotland are going to bed hungry. I know what I’m more concerned about. 

To Labour members and supporters, the message is simple. You can choose to sit at home, fold your arms and be disappointed, or you can roll up your sleeves, unite behind Richard Leonard and help get our Labour team into power where we can deliver the change our country so desperately needs.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Labour

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