SCOTTISH Labour under Richard Leonard’s leadership has failed on Brexit, been weak on anti-Semitism, and is not a Government-in-waiting, according to one of the country’s top trade union leaders.

In a scathing interview, GMB Scotland chief Gary Smith chided Scottish Labour for not supporting a second EU referendum and said the party’s overall political strategy is based on “riding on the coat-tails” of Jeremy Corbyn.

Smith, whose union helps bankroll Labour, warned: “It is a recipe for failure.” He also said he had considered leaving the party over the anti-Semitism row.

Scottish Labour, which has slumped to third place behind the Tories in recent elections, will stage its conference in Dundee this week.

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Leonard will speak at a gathering held days before the pivotal Brexit votes at Westminster.

GMB Scotland, one of the country’s biggest unions, is affiliated to Labour and has deep ties to Leonard, who is a member.

Leonard worked for the union for more than 20 years before becoming an MSP. He accepted a £12,000 donation during the 2017 leadership contest, and benefited from £833 worth of phone bank facilities.

But Smith, 51, who has a reputation for making frank contributions to the political debate, has hit out at the state of the party on the eve of conference.

Leonard is a left-wing ally of Corbyn and has echoed the UK leader’s lukewarm position on a second Brexit referendum, a policy most party members support.

Corbyn softened last week on holding another “public vote”, but Leonard told journalists his first preference is still for a Labour version of Brexit.

Speaking to The Herald on Sunday at his union’s headquarters in Glasgow, Smith took aim at the Scottish party’s Brexit stance.

“Where is Labour’s offer in Scotland? Where is Labour recognising the fact that the people in this country voted to stay? I think there was a way of bringing that to life.”

Smith, who said that “Scottishness is not false consciousness”, added: “Their failure to find a way of articulating where Scotland is on Brexit is certainly going to cost them votes.”

His union is in favour of a second referendum and Smith is baffled by the Scottish Labour leadership's lack of enthusiasm for going back to the people:

“You would think for a labour movement it would be quite simple. Our members always get a vote on anything we negotiate. There’s a good trade union principle at stake here.

"The offer you have negotiated is either good enough, or not. The members get the final say. Why would the Labour party and the wider trade union movement not adopt that as a principle?”

While Leonard adheres faithfully to the Corbyn view on Brexit, the SNP has become the most prominent backer of a second vote in Scotland. “They have missed a trick on it,” he said of his own party.

Smith’s frustration with Scottish Labour is wider than Brexit. “People in Scotland need a strong party of labour that speaks for working-class people and working-class communities. And they are not doing that,” he said.

He also challenged the view that the last general election in Scotland, which saw Labour increase its seat tally from one to seven, vindicated the Corbynista approach.

“The truth of the matter is that Scottish Labour got about 10,000 more votes at the last general election than they did at the one before. Corbyn has secured a few more seats than Gordon Brown did when he went down to defeat.”

He continued: “To win back Scotland, they are going to need something like 20 seats, and all the polling would suggest that they are going to go backwards, rather than forwards.”

Asked if he is surprised that Labour is in third place, he replied: “No ... They’ve got nothing coherent or clear to say on the big issue of the day."

The Herald: Richard Leonard MSP Scottish Labour for Central Scotland. July 13 2017

Image: Leonard

Smith summed up what he regards as a key Scottish Labour shortcoming: “My concern is the whole strategy just seems to be riding on the coat-tails of Corbyn into power.”

He added: “It is a recipe for failure.”

In an attempt to assert his authority within his shadow cabinet, Leonard last year fired senior MSPs Jackie Baillie and Anas Sarwar from his top team. According to Smith, it felt like “two bald men fighting over a comb”.

He explained: “If you’ve got a party that is not absolutely focused on winning elections and delivering a policy programme, then I guess you get caught up in internal spats.”

Asked if the Scottish Labour team looked like a government-in-waiting, he said: “No, they don’t.”

On whether Leonard had engaged with the GMB since becoming leader, Smith said: “In truth, I am disappointed about the quality of engagement.”

He is also critical of the party's handling of anti-Semitism allegations, a toxic row that has dogged Corbyn.

Leonard, much to the frustration of his colleagues, held the Corbyn line last year after the UK leader initially declined to back the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s full definition of anti-Semitism.

Smith said: “I don’t think the party has been strong enough, or quick enough, and I think what’s happened is absolutely disgusting. Disgraceful.

"I have written to Richard Leonard on anti-Semitism here in Scotland and I thought he could and should have been far more forthright about the problem earlier.”

Asked whether Scottish Labour had been weak on anti-Semitism, he said: “Yes ... I don’t know what we’ve said that is distinct in Scotland.”

Smith cut his political teeth in Edinburgh in the late 1980s before moving to England to work for the GMB. He came back to Scotland in 2015 to take up the top job in the union north of the Border, and he has adopted a more robust approach to industrial relations.

His three priorities are “jobs and work”, building up the union, and giving opportunities to women. On the equal pay scandal in Glasgow, GMB Scotland was criticised for its initial handling of the row more than a decade ago, but on Smith’s watch the union changed its strategy by exerting pressure on Glasgow City Council to settle with thousands of female staff.

Although the wronged workers will receive a payout, Smith is not rejoicing: “For us as a union, we are not celebrating an equal pay victory in Glasgow. None of the trade unions covered themselves in glory over equal pay.”

He said GMB Scotland had been in “decline” and had “forgotten how to fight”, but said these days are over:

“Equal pay should have been addressed far more aggressively, by all the trade unions, far earlier. If that means taking people out on strike, if that means calling demonstrations, that’s what we should be about.

"Equal pay ultimately was not secured by lawyers ... ultimately equal pay has been secured by 8,000 women taking to the streets.”

More broadly, Smith refers to “forgotten Scotland”, which includes workers who he believes are not represented adequately by any political party. “There is a dishonesty and a hypocrisy that is written right through Scottish politics,” he said.

His jobs-first approach can also put him at odds with Scottish Labour policy. Unlike the party, Smith is pro-Trident and supports fracking, both of which he believes could be part of a wider industrial strategy.

“Scottish Labour are trying to chase a green vote. That green vote will remain with the Green party. It’s a middle-class guilt thing,” he said.

He is also sceptical of the view that thousands of jobs are tied to the so-called “green collar” economy:

“We are rooted in the real world, and not in some aspirational ‘jobs in Brigadoon, with Scotch mist in the pay packet’ type stuff.”

It is clear Smith wants Scottish Labour to be successful, but he is frustrated by what he regards as a disconnect between the party and the people he believes they should be representing. He cannot conceal his disappointment.

“On a whole number of issues, frankly, Labour just hasn’t been credible, doesn’t speak to working people, but talks at them.”

A spokesperson for Scottish Labour said: "We have been trying to break the Brexit gridlock with a credible alternative plan to protect jobs, industries and workers' rights, and will keep pressing for a general election or a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit.

"There is absolutely no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour movement or any walk of life, and we are committed to rooting it out of our party and wider society.

"As a proud anti-austerity party, we are committed to strengthening our trade unions, ending low pay and banning exploitative zero-hours contracts. These are the kind of policies that in 2017 led Labour to our biggest increase in vote share since 1945 and we will not be going back on them."