Johann Lamont’s leadership questioned as Labour caught in minimum pricing chaos

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s leadership has been questioned after it emerged Scottish Labour politicians are set to adopt a two way stance on minimum pricing for alcohol.
 
The dilemma for Ms Lamont, who is now the official party leader for all Scottish Labour MPs and MSPs, has emerged with the news that Scottish MPs are expected to endorse the policy at Westminster whilst their Scottish leader refuses to back the plan at Holyrood.

One of the Scottish Labour MPs expected to back minimum pricing in next week’s stage 3 debate in the House of Commons is Ms Lamont’s own deputy Anas Sarwar.

The SNP have seized on the confusion and say with MSPs and MPs set to vote in different ways on minimum pricing for alcohol then doubts now hang over Johann Lamont’s credibility as leader of Scottish Labour.

Last year’s Review of Scottish Labour – held in the wake of their election disaster – led to a change in the party’s constitution, meaning that Johann Lamont is the first leader to be in charge of both the Scottish Parliamentary group and also Labour’s Scottish MPs.

But this Thursday’s Stage 3 Debate on minimum pricing calls this into serious question, with Labour MSPs set to abstain.  Labour MPs at Westminster are in favour of the policy – putting Lamont and her deputy Anas Sarwar at odds on the policy.

SNP MSP Bob Doris has questioned if Mr Sarwar and his Scottish MP colleagues will vote with their Scottish Leader and defy the whip at Westminster, or if they will disobey their Scottish leader.

Mr Doris, SNP MSP for Glasgow and Deputy Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee, said:

“Johann Lamont is meant to be the first leader of all of Scottish Labour, but the minimum pricing issue shows that this was just a hollow sound-bite.

“She is supposed to be in charge of all of Scottish Labour, but she doesn’t seem to have convinced anyone outside the Scottish Parliament that she’s right not to support minimum pricing.

“Scottish Labour MPs seem set to defy her leadership and vote with their Westminster Shadow Public Health Minister Diane Abbot, who supports the Scottish Government’s proposals.

“This casts huge doubt over Johann Lamont’s ability to lead Scottish Labour as was set out in her job description. It also puts her on a direct collision course with her own Deputy Leader Anas Sarwar.

“Mr Sarwar and his MP colleagues are now forced to choose between voting with their Scottish Leader and defy the whip at Westminster, or defying their Scottish leader and vote with their Westminster colleagues in London.

“Johann Lamont seems to have led Scottish Labour into a situation where they will not only be the only party failing to support a ground-breaking public health measure, but will also leave Scottish Labour’s new constitution in tatters.

“With the final vote approaching, Labour MSPs still have a chance to avoid going down in history as the only party not to support a minimum price for alcohol.”

It also emerged last week that several of her own MSPs are supportive of the SNP’s minimum price for alcohol plan.  The admissions was made in a TV interview given by Labour’s spokesman Dr Richard Simpson.

The Scottish Government has announced they intend to set the minimum price per unit at 50p.  The policy is backed by the Lib Dems and the Tories at Holyrood, but the Holyrood Labour group has steadfastly refused to endorse the plan.