Scottish Labour leadership hopeful Monica Lennon says the suspension of nine Aberdeen councillors is a matter she considers “closed by the party”.
The so-called “Aberdeen Nine” were suspended from the Scottish Labour Party after entering a coalition with the Conservatives and Independents following the 2017 council elections.
The group had hoped to see their suspension lifted but, after more than three years, top party officials in London made the call to extend their ban until 2022.
Ms Lennon, speaking to this newspaper ahead of an online hustings for north-east regional members on Monday, revealed she considered the matter “closed by the party”.
However, if elected as party leader, she has pledged to call for disciplinary powers over Scottish Labour cases to rest with the Scottish, rather than the UK, Labour party.
Following the resignation of former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, Aberdeen Labour leader Jenny Laing said she hoped his replacement would “do all that they can” to have the group reinstated as full members of the party.
However, her hopes may be dashed, if Monica Lennon wins the two-horse leadership race against Anas Sarwar.
‘A difficult process for everyone’
Ms Lennon said: “The matter was closed by the party. The process around disciplinary hearings is a matter for the UK party and there are committees to deal with these things and whether people like it or not that was the outcome and the matter is closed.
“I know it’s been a difficult process for everyone involved and it did take far too long and I don’t think that’s healthy for everyone.
“I’m not going to come into this contest and promise people things that I cannot deliver.”
However, Ms Lennon believes the Scottish Labour Party should have “more autonomy”, including over disciplinary processes.
She said: “I don’t think the current model is the right one. Where I do agree with many colleagues is, we need to have disciplinary powers over Scottish Labour cases here in Scottish Labour. That’s something I’m willing to take forward as party leader.”
By contrast, Mr Sarwar revealed he considered the suspended councillors “nine current Labour councillors” who were “working day and night to deliver Labour values in administration”.
He added that he looks forward to “engaging with them even more closely, and to working with them in the years to come”.
Jenny Laing, leader of Aberdeen Labour and co-leader of Aberdeen City Council, said it was “deeply disappointing” that Ms Lennon had not offered her full support to the group.
She added: “I am surprised that Monica Lennon has not offered more support given she was a local councillor herself and should understand the implications of SNP austerity on communities in Aberdeen and beyond.
“What Scottish Labour requires going forward is strong leadership and members can therefore compare and contrast the views of Anas Sarwar, who has praised the work of councillors, versus Monica Lennon who has said the matter is closed.”
Oil and gas is ‘absolutely critical to Scotland’
Meanwhile, Ms Lennon described the oil and gas sector as “central to Scotland’s economic recovery” as the country begins to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said the industry also has a “key role” to play in the transition to a low-carbon economy but has a “lot more to do” to make use of the “huge potential” it has in terms of developing greener forms of energy.
The Scottish Labour leadership candidate accused the SNP Government of having “failed to capitalise on this”.
The MSP, who was made redundant from a previous role in construction during the financial crash, added: “I would be interested in speaking to people in the north-east and across Scotland who work in oil and gas and the supply chain because I know there’s a lot of fear in the community about jobs and job security.”