Richard Leonard facing staff crisis five months from Holyrood election

Two senior staff members of Scottish Labour, key to the party’s organising and campaigning for next year’s Holyrood elections, have quit, throwing the party into chaos and raising new questions about interference from London.

Labour leader Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin
Labour leader Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin

Last nightthe Scottish General Secretary, Michael Sharpe, announced he had resigned after a year in the job for family reasons.

However, some party sources claimed the former parliamentary policy researcher had “jumped before he was pushed”.

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Now it has also been revealed the party’s director of communications at Holyrood, Lynn McMath, who was taken on to deliver a long-term communications strategy with a focus on the 2021 elections, has quit for a role in higher education.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has lost two key staff members five months from the election.

She is the sixth communications specialist to leave the party in the past three years.

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Her decision to go also comes after Scottish party leader Richard Leonard hired Andrew Whitaker as a new spin doctor, increasing his senior communication staff to three.

Mr Whitaker had held a similar role with John McDonnell until the former Shadow Chancellor quit Labour's front bench in the wake of the December General Election defeat. Mr Leonard hired him just as he faced an ultimately unsuccessful leadership coup.

Ms McMath, who had previously worked for the party as well as Edinburgh City Council and homeless charity Crisis, was hired in the first half of last year and was seen as someone who could work across party divides.

Mr Sharpe, who had worked for Scottish Labour as a policy researcher for nine years before being appointed director of policy by Mr Leonard, then replacing long-time General Secretary Brian Roy last year, is a left winger who was politically close to the Scottish Labour leader and Jeremy Corbyn.

Son of former Scottish Labour government minister Cathy Jamieson, Mr Sharpe made his announcement on social media last night.

“After deep consideration and discussion with my family, I will be leaving my post as Scottish General Secretary,” he said. “The Labour Party has always been – and will continue to be – a cherished part of my life.

“However, with elections for the Scottish Parliament five months away, I realise that I cannot give both my young family and the party I love that commitment that they each deserve.”

Some party sources claimed Mr Sharpe had been warned months ago by the UK party’s General Secretary David Evans he needed to improve the party’s performance.

One source said: “It wouldn’t surprise me that they’ve taken a look at what’s happening and told him he could resign in a dignified fashion or he would face an internal review, which would not end well for him.”

Another added: “Certainly we need stronger operational guidance, but it's not a good look for London to interfere like this, no matter if it’s probably the right thing to do.”

Mr Leonard said Mr Sharpe’s “extensive political acumen and policy knowledge and skills” would be “greatly missed” and added: “I respect his decision to take a step back from the high demands of the role of General Secretary in order to focus on his young family.

"I wish him, Laura and Maxton all the very best for the next chapter in their lives."

The party refused to comment on Ms McMath's resignation.

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