WHEN Labour begins its UK conference in Brighton today, one of the most intriguing talking points is sure to be the race to lead the party in Scotland. Until recently Scottish Labour could reasonably have expected merely a passing mention at the national party conference.

However, following the unexpected resignation of Kezia Dugdale as Scottish leader, the contest has become a crucial marker on the future direction of the party in Scotland.

There could hardly be more striking differences in style and substance between candidates Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard in what is both an intriguing contest and one that is crucial for the party following its recent troubled past. Sarwar is correctly viewed as a talented and highly-polished professional politician who has experience in a leadership role during his tenure as deputy leader. Yet his decision to send his children to private school has already tainted the Glaswegian politician in the eyes of many as an advocate of an egalitarian approach to education.

Such concerns about a commitment to progressive causes were magnified with revelations that the family firm in which Sarwar held shares until yesterday, fails to pay some staff the real living wage and has also refused to say whether it recognises trade unions.

Yesterday’s announcement by Sarwar that he would relinquish said shares was billed as “putting the party and country first”. Yet less than 48 hours earlier in an interview with this newspaper, Sarwar evaded questions on whether he would seek to divest himself of his shares in United Wholesale (Scotland). The Sunday Herald believes Sarwar’s U-turn is a desperate attempt to end a damaging row that threatened to bury his ambition to lead Scottish Labour.

It may be that Sarwar is already too tainted by the controversies linked to his wealth and lifestyle to win this contest. In contrast, Leonard has devoted most of his adult life to working in trade unions. Leonard has yet to be tested in frontline politics. But his call for Holyrood to be a “bulwark” against Toryism suggests that he understands the need to

fight the progressive war in the way Scottish Labour leaders of recent times have not.

The Sunday Herald believes in progressive values. It is why we backed independence during the referendum in 2014. It is why we want to see the SNP held to account on its ambitions for the nation – and celebrated for its successes on that front. It is also why we will be watching the outcome of this contest closely, in what will be a litmus test of Scottish Labour’s commitment to progressive values.