Scotland politics

Rowley 'gutted' over leadership row tape

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Media captionScottish Labour's interim leader Alex Rowley wants to move on from a row about leadership candidates

Scottish Labour's interim leader Alex Rowley is "gutted" after a recording of him backing Richard Leonard for the party's leadership became public.

Mr Rowley was taped calling Mr Leonard the "best candidate" during a private conversation at Labour's conference.

This sparked a war of words between MSPs, which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called "incredible".

Mr Rowley said he intended to stay on as the party's interim leader, calling on MSPs to pull together and "move on".

Mr Leonard, meanwhile, said the only plot he'd been involved in was to "get rid of the SNP and dethrone Nicola Sturgeon".

The row unfolded as Labour's UK leader Jeremy Corbyn was making his keynote speech to the party's conference in Brighton. It centres on the leadership election following the resignation of Kezia Dugdale, which pits Mr Leonard against Anas Sarwar.

During the conference, Mr Rowley was secretly recorded discussing the leadership election with a party member while queuing for a fringe event.

In the recording, published by the Scottish Sun newspaper, he said he "privately didn't believe Kezia would be there" for the next Holyrood election in 2021, adding that "our view was that Richard was the best person and therefore we should go with that plan".

He said he had been a backer of Mr Leonard "for some time now", but stressed that "we certainly weren't putting any pressure on it".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Rowley was taped voicing support for Richard Leonard (left) over Anas Sarwar

The recording led to claims of a "plot" against Ms Dugdale, who had earlier said there had been "a lot of internal problems" in the party prior to her resignation.

Jackie Baillie, who is backing Mr Sarwar for the leadership, said there was "evidence of a plot going on behind the scenes for months" to replace Ms Dugdale with Mr Leonard, calling this "a complete betrayal of the membership and every value we hold dear".

A series of MSPs and MPs on each side of the contest then joined the fray, with Mr Leonard's campaign team denying he had been involved in any plotting and key supporter Neil Findlay describing the claim as "barrel-scraping desperation".

'Private conversation'

Prior to the weekly session of questions to the first minister at Holyrood, Mr Rowley said there were "no plots".

And after the exchanges in the chamber, he told reporters he was "clearly disappointed and gutted that what I thought was a private conversation was tape recorded".

He said: "I believed that to be a private conversation, and the point is that I now need to move and get on with what I'm doing.

"We have a party that wants to unite and a membership that wants us to get on with the job in hand, and that's what we all need to do. We need to pull together, have this election and move forward."

Asked if he would stay on as interim leader, Mr Rowley said he intended to do so.

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Image caption Ms Dugdale said there had been "a lot of internal problems" in the party prior to her resignation
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Media captionSturgeon jokes about Labour 'infighting'

Mr Leonard, meanwhile, insisted he had not conspired against Ms Dugdale, saying: "The only plot I'm involved in is the plot to get rid of the SNP and dethrone Nicola Sturgeon.

"There is not civil war in the Labour Party. We have a leadership contest which is being conducted in a comradely way - that's how it started and that's how it should continue.

"I've had no part in any plot at all since I was elected to the Scottish Parliament last May."

'Internal spats'

Mr Sarwar - whose campaign has also drawn ire from Ms Sturgeon - said he was "focused on winning the leadership contest" and bringing the party together.

He said: "This is a really important moment for the Scottish Labour Party. You see our membership is energised, people are getting behind our 'for the many, not the few' message.

"I'm purely focused on the leadership contest and winning it for the Labour Party. I'm not going to get involved in internal spats, I'm going to focus on my positive ideas for Scotland and returning a Scottish Labour government."

In the chamber, Ms Sturgeon seized on the opportunity to attack her opponents, saying "Scottish Labour just fight among themselves".

She said: "The serious issue is this - this government continues to take the decisions that are in the interest of the people of Scotland, and by contrast Labour's behaviour is selfish and self-indulgent and proves they're not fit to be an opposition, let alone a government."

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