Labour contenders clash on benefits and election

Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard have held a series of hustings debates as party members elect a new leader. Picture: John Devlin
Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard have held a series of hustings debates as party members elect a new leader. Picture: John Devlin
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THE two men battling it out to replace Kezia Dugdale as Scottish Labour leader have clashed over universal benefits and the party’s performance at the 
general election. Anas Sarwar and Richard Leonard set out their views at a hustings event for Labour members in Edinburgh.

Mr Sarwar said he wanted to go beyond Labour’s existing plans to increase child benefit by £5 a week and introduce a Scottish Child Tax Credit, with £10 payments targeted at the poorest youngsters.

He said: “I want us to use the powers we have in our parliament to target support at those who need it most. Why should every child get a £5 uplift in child benefit when we can target £10 to the poorest and most vulnerable people?”

But Mr Leonard said child benefit should on principle be a universal payment.

“The redistribution we need to see should come through the tax system. Once you start getting into a position of means-testing or targeting, all kinds of people who should get the benefit simply will not get the benefit at all.”

The two candidates were asked about their support for UK party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Sarwar – who last year signed an open letter calling on Mr Corbyn to quit – said he would quote Mr Corbyn’s own words: “It’s not about the past, we are focusing on the future.

He continued: “It is demoralising when we see party member attack party member.

“We all want a Labour government in Scotland, but we will only achieve it if we are united and credible.

“We have got to recognise that in the election in June we didn’t win – in Scotland we only gained 10,000 votes.

“At the same time the Tories ran the most disastrous election campaign in their history and they gained 300,000 votes in Scotland. That tells you the problem we have.”

Mr Leonard said he had backed Mr Corbyn for the leadership because change was needed. “Business as usual is not going to work. We cannot say we are going to manage our way out of the challenges we face. We need a radically different approach.”

But on the election he said: “We had an opportunity we passed up to capitalise on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership which was clearly growing in popularity. We failed to capitalise on a radical Labour manifesto in which we stood for things we should always have stood for – extending public ownership, redistributing wealth, ending austerity.

“Had we done that we would have got more MPs, including more MPs in this city, if we had understood just what was going on.”