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Leonard has 'no intention' of resigning as Labour leader

The Scottish Labour chief spoke to Scotland Tonight after two frontbenchers quit.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has said he has no intention of standing down following the party's disastrous European election result.

Speaking to Scotland Tonight, Leonard said Scottish Labour needs to "be firmly on the side of remain" and added he will be campaigning for EU membership in a second referendum.

The move comes after the party suffered its worst election result since 1910, winning only 9% of the vote, and two MSPs quit his frontbench.

Here is an edited transcript of the interview.

John MacKay: Richard Leonard, the worst election results for Labour in Scotland since 1910. Do you take full responsibility for that disaster?

Richard Leonard: It was a bad election result and as the leader of the Scottish Labour Party of course I take responsibility for it. But we have had a meeting of the Scottish parliamentary group today and we are trying to pull people together to work out exactly what did go wrong, how it went so badly wrong and what we need to do to try and move things forward, to try to rebuild support for the Labour Party in Scotland, because there are many people in many communities across Scotland that really do need a strong Labour Party with a view to securing a future Labour government here in Holyrood as well as at Westminster.

John: What does taking full responsibility for the worst election result for Labour since 1910 mean, if it doesn't mean resignation?

Richard: It doesn't mean resignation; I have no intention of resigning.

John: So what does taking responsibility mean?

Richard: I take responsibility for that result and that doesn't mean that I resign. I do not intend to resign at all. I want to lead the party, I have a mandate from the membership of the Labour Party to steer things forward. I got that mandate just 18 months ago and I've been getting lots of offers of support from people who want to try to help us turn this round.

John: One of your councillors has said you've failed as a leader.

Richard: I don't know who said that.

John: Kirsteen Sullivan of West Lothian council says you've failed as a leader. What would you say to her?

Richard: I disagree strongly. Nobody is under any illusions that the terrain that the Labour Party stands on in Scotland is difficult. We are in this parliament, we are in third place. The result at the weekend wasn't great but it shows that we need to keep building and we need to be positive. What we need to avoid as a Labour Party is to become bogged down with internal disputes. We should be outward looking as a Labour Party and connecting with communities, connecting with workers in workplaces and that is what under my leadership we will strive to do.

John: Daniel Johnson MSP, the latest to resign, says he can't represent his constituents from the frontbench under the current direction and leadership of the party. One of your former MEPs, David Martin, blames Labour's failure to take a clear stand Brexit.

Richard: Yes, and I'm very sad to see Daniel go because I promoted him into the shadow cabinet because I know what an important contribution he can make and I'm sure he will continue to make a contribution for the immediate future from the backbenches.

John: But he says he can't represent his constituents under the current direction and leadership of the party...

Richard: In Daniel's constituency around 80% of the electorate voted to remain and he feels that whilst the Labour Party as a whole doesn't have a sufficiently clear message on remain that he finds it difficult to continue in that role. I've been saying over the last day or so that I think that because of the breakdown of the talks between the Labour front bench and the Tory front bench at Westminster, because of the rise of the Brexit party and what that means for the prospect of a no deal Brexit which would be catastrophic, with the resignation of Theresa May and the leadership election in the Conservative Party now taking place, it is absolutely clear to me that as a Labour Party we need to be sending a strong signal that we support a confirmatory referendum and on that referendum ballot paper should be both a leave option, but also a credible remain option. In that referendum I will be campaigning and I believe the Scottish Labour Party will be campaigning for a remain vote.

John: So just to be clear on that, you're backing a second vote on EU membership, come what may?

Richard: Yes I am. I am backing the position that there needs to be a public say on whatever deal we end up with.

John: We are not talking about a general election, it's a referendum on the EU result?

Richard: I would dearly like to see a general election but I think the prospects of that also faded at the weekend with that election result. I am clear that as a Labour Party, as a Scottish Labour Party we need to be firmly on the side of remain and that means we should be calling for a confirmatory referendum on any deal that would give people the option of voting remain. So that's what Scottish Labour will be campaigning for.

John: a second referendum?

Richard: That's what I'm proposing and we've got a meeting of our Scottish executive of the Labour Party in the next week or so and I am hoping they will come round and back that position too.

John: So it's not absolutely certain yet, because Ian Murray MP says Labour offered nothing but ambiguity on the issue. Your personal position is a second referendum but that's not guaranteed...

Richard: It's not guaranteed because we are democratic party and it would need to get the support of the party membership, but I'm sitting here today, John, pretty confident that given the circumstances we find ourselves in, given the circumstances we find ourselves of the country, the breakdown of those talks between Labour's front bench and Theresa May and the departure of Theresa May and the Tory election for a new leader and the rise of the Brexit party, I think all of those circumstances make it absolutely certain that Labour Party members will back my view that the time has come for us to be a clear remain party.

John: I wonder how can you be so certain because another resignation today, Neil Finlay MSP, his letter is scathing about the state of the party and he talks about an end of the eternal internal fighting and toxic culture. You've been leader for 18 months, what are you going to do about that?

Richard: Well, Neil is a good friend of mine and I'm really sorry he has chosen to go. He's been talking about stepping down for quite a number of months.

John: Taking his departure aside, he talks about "a toxic culture, eternal internal fighting in Scottish Labour".

Richard: John, I said earlier on that I think the Scottish Labour Party doesn't have the luxury of dwelling on internal matters. We need to be looking outward and we need to be offering the people of Scotland a vision of the better country that we want to build. We are living in an era of austerity where public services have been absolutely driven down, we are living in an era where people's experience in the jobs market is all too often in forms of precarious employment. We are living in an era where the National Health Service is being squeezed. People aren't turning to Labour to fight that.

John: What is the cause of this infighting, who is involved? Are we talking about perhaps in your role as leader people you sacked from your shadow cabinet? People like Anas Sarwar, Jackie Baillie, are they the sort of individuals we're talking about in this infighting?

Richard: I want to be the leader of the Scottish Labour Party that looks outward, that isn't concentrating on internal divisions and strife.

John: I understand that but for the past 18 months that is what has been happening and you haven't change that. What makes you think you will change that now?

Richard: One of the things we need to reflect upon is the result of the elections at the weekend and if anything that should tell us that we need to come together as a party, that we need to work together and that we need to be all pulling in the same direction and I think there is a big challenge ahead of us but I think it's one we can meet.

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