|Leader of the Scottish Labour Party|
17 December 2011
|Preceded by||Iain Gray|
|Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow Pollok
6 May 1999
|Preceded by||Constituency Created|
11 July 1957 |
|Political party||Labour Co-operative|
|Alma mater||University of Glasgow|
Johann McDougal Lamont (/ / JO-anne LAM-ont; Scottish Gaelic: Seonag MacDhùghaill NicLaomainn, born 11 July 1957) is a Scottish politician, and the current leader of the Scottish Labour Party. She served as a junior minister in the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition Scottish Executive from 2004 until the coalition's defeat by the Scottish National Party (SNP) in 2007. She was subsequently elected deputy leader of the opposition Labour Group of MSPs in 2008, and was elected to lead the Labour Party in December 2011.
Born in Glasgow, Lamont attended the city's Woodside Secondary School, before obtaining a degree from the University of Glasgow. After studying for teaching qualifications at Jordanhill College, she became a schoolteacher. Active in the Labour Party since her university days, Lamont served on its Scottish Executive Committee, and was Chair in 1993. With the establishment of a devolved legislature in Scotland, she was first elected as the Labour Co-operative Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow Pollok in 1999. Having been appointed Convener of the Scottish Parliament's Communities Committee in 2003, she took on her first ministerial role in October 2004. Her decision to stand for the Labour Party leadership followed the resignation of Iain Gray as leader in the wake of the party's second consecutive defeat at the 2011 Scottish general election. As a consequence of a review of how the Labour Party in Scotland is structured she became its first overall leader.
Lamont has been a campaigner on equality issues and violence against women throughout her political career. Following the SNP Government's announcement of a referendum on Scottish independence she has been a key figure in Better Together, the cross-party movement that seeks to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. Lamont believes that Labour lost the 2011 election because it had lost its direction, and has initiated a review of Scottish Labour policy on issues like devolution and the party's commitment to free universal public services. Under her tenure, Labour has won back some of the support it lost in 2011. In Parliamentary debates she is perceived by commentators such as The Scotsman's Andrew Whitaker as being an effective opponent to First Minister Alex Salmond, but has been criticised by others, including Richard Seymour of The Guardian for her clumsiness during television interviews.
- 1 Early life and teaching career
- 2 MSP for Glasgow Pollok
- 3 Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
- 4 Politics and views
- 5 Media image
- 6 Personal life
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Early life and teaching career
Johann Lamont was born in the Anderston district of Glasgow on 11 July 1957. Her parents, Archie and Effie, were both Gaelic speakers from crofting families on the island of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, who met after each moving to Glasgow. Archie was a carpenter employed by the Scottish ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne, working on the Mallaig to Skye route, and took part in the Seamen's Strike of 1966. The family were churchgoers, Johann's parents having been influenced in their faith by the American evangelist Billy Graham. Her first experiences of public speakers was listening to the preachers her mother took her to see as a girl.
Lamont's childhood was divided between Glasgow, and her mother's family home on Tiree, where she and her brother David spent their summer holidays. She attended Woodside Secondary School, having declined to take scholarship exams for private school. Like her parents, she was a Gaelic speaker, but did not feel comfortable with the language because she believed she could not speak it proficiently enough, and dropped it at school in favour of French and German. She studied English and History at the University of Glasgow, graduating with an MA. Joining the Labour Party in 1975, she was active in the Glasgow University Labour Club where she was a contemporary of fellow Labour politician Margaret Curran. She spent a year teacher training at Jordanhill College, gaining a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and afterwards worked as a teacher, joining the faculty of Rothesay Academy, Isle of Bute in 1979. From 1982 to 1989 she taught at Springburn Academy in Glasgow, then worked at Castlemilk High School, also in Glasgow, from 1990 to 1999. Lamont taught English, but also spent time with social workers and educational psychologists, attempting to tackle instances of school truancy. During her teaching career she was also an active member of the Educational Institute of Scotland.
Continuing to be active in the Labour Party, Lamont became a prominent campaigner on issues related to social justice, equality and devolution, and was a representative on the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the body that paved the way for Scottish devolution. She was a member of the Scottish Executive Committee of the Labour Party, serving as Chair in 1993.
MSP for Glasgow Pollok
Lamont's decision to seek political office was influenced by the creation of the Scottish Parliament. Speaking to The Herald in 2011, she said, "It is easy to forget what a great opportunity it was for women and I was determined that women would be represented, would have a strong voice." She was first elected as the MSP for Glasgow Pollok in 1999. She held the seat in 2003, when she faced a strong challenge from the Scottish Socialist Party leader Tommy Sheridan, and then again in 2007 and 2011. During her maiden speech on 17 May 1999, Lamont was the first MSP to use Gaelic at a sitting of the Parliament. She served on a number of the Parliament's committees during her first term in office, including the Equal Opportunities Committee, Local Government Committee and Social Justice Committee. In 2000, she became the first Labour MSP to rebel against the Labour-led administration when she threatened to lead backbenchers in voting against a planned Scottish Executive attempt to block the Abolition of Poindings and Warrant Sales Bill, which had been introduced by Tommy Sheridan. The move resulted in the withdrawal of the amendment, and a crucial parliamentary vote in favour of the legislation.
She was appointed as Convener of the Communities Committee in 2003. In March 2004 the Committee endorsed a Bill aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour, which included plans for parenting orders and the electronic tagging of youths under the age of 16. First Minister Jack McConnell made her Deputy Minister for Communities in the Scottish Executive in October 2004, where she was responsible for the launch of a radio and television advertising campaign aimed at tackling domestic abuse that aired over Christmas 2005. She also expressed her concerns over the level of discrimination faced by travellers and gypsies after the issue was highlighted in a 2005 Scottish Parliament report.
In November 2006, Lamont was given the role of Deputy Minister for Justice, and oversaw reforms to Scotland's Lower Courts system. She held the post until Labour was defeated at the 2007 election. McConnell subsequently appointed her as Labour's spokesperson for Communities and Sport in his post-election frontbench team, a role she retained in the Shadow Cabinet formed by his successor, Wendy Alexander in September 2007. Following Alexander's decision to step down as leader of the Labour MSPs in June 2008, and Cathy Jamieson's subsequent resignation as her deputy, Lamont stood against fellow MSP Bill Butler for the position vacated by Jamieson. She was elected as deputy leader in September with 60.16 percent of the vote, against 39.82 for Butler. At the same time, Iain Gray was elected to lead the Labour Group at Holyrood.
Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
In the wake of Labour's second defeat at the Scottish Parliament election of May 2011, which saw the Scottish National Party (SNP) form its first majority government, Iain Gray announced his intention to step down as leader of Labour's group of MSPs later that year. A review into the Party's structure in Scotland was subsequently conducted. Chaired by Jim Murphy and Sarah Boyack, it concluded that one of the reforms should be that the next leader should have autonomy over the entire Scottish Labour Party rather than just leading its MSPs as previous leaders had done. Lamont declared her candidacy for the leadership election in September 2011, and launched her campaign on 7 November at Stirling University. She told delegates that Labour needed to reengage with the electorate if it wanted to govern again. "We must listen and learn, show humility and seek again to talk for and to people's ambitions and concerns. Our real challenge is that we in Labour lost our way, lost our confidence and lost Scotland." Her opponents in the leadership race were the MP Tom Harris, and her fellow MSP Ken Macintosh, both of whom had also expressed a need for Labour to change in order to win the next election. In an interview with the Daily Record Lamont said that the priority of any future Labour leader should be education and employment, particularly the issue of youth unemployment.
The result of the election was announced on 17 December 2011, and saw Lamont secure an overall majority with 51.77% of the vote in the first round. Her closest rival was Ken Macintosh with 40.28 per cent, while Tom Harris was third with 7.95 per cent. Lamont also won majorities in two groups of Labour's three-tier electoral college system, securing the support of parliamentarians and affiliated bodies, such as trade unions. Macintosh was backed by a majority among individual party members. In her subsequent acceptance speech, Lamont told party activists, "Together we will change the Scottish Labour Party and win the chance to serve the people of Scotland again and make Scotland all that we know it can be. Now let's get started." On the same day, MP Anas Sarwar was elected to the position of Deputy that Lamont had vacated.
Lamont began appointing members of her shadow cabinet on 19 December 2011. Those given positions on her initial frontbench team include Ken Macintosh, who became Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, Hugh Henry, who was given the role of Labour's spokesman for Education and Lifelong Learning, Lewis Macdonald as Shadow Justice Minister, and Sarah Boyack, who was appointed to Local Government and Planning. The post of Shadow Health Minister was given to Jackie Baillie, who had held the position previously. A notable absence from the team, however, was Iain Gray, who had expressed a wish to take a break from frontline politics.
Lamont announced a major shake up of the Labour frontbench team on 28 June 2013, which included the return of Iain Gray to the frontbench when he became the party's Finance spokesman, replacing Ken Macintosh. Lewis Macdonald was appointed as chief whip, with his previous role of Shadow Justice Minister given to Graeme Pearson, while Jackie Baillie was moved from Health to Social Justice and Welfare. Sarah Boyack kept her role in Local Government and Planning. Speaking about the reshuffle, Lamont said, "We have made a great deal of progress in the last 18 months but we have to keep moving forward."
First months in office
Lamont gave her first post-election interview to The Politics Show Scotland on 18 December 2011, in which she spoke of the "huge challenge" of rebuilding public trust in Scottish Labour following its defeat at the polls the previous May. In an interview that appeared in the following day's Daily Record, she said that she would provide a "constructive opposition" to Alex Salmond's SNP administration, but would work with the Nationalists on issues where they had common ground, notably youth unemployment and developing a lasting legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth Games, which will be held in Glasgow. She attended her first session of First Minister's Questions as Labour leader on 22 December 2011, addressing the issue of child neglect following the conviction of a Glasgow woman for the murder of her son, and asked what lessons could be learned from the case.
In January 2012, as the SNP Government prepared for a referendum on Scottish independence, she spoke out in defence of Scotland's position in the United Kingdom after First Minister Alex Salmond claimed that the country was not an equal partner in the union. Along with Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie, the respective leaders of the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Liberal Democrats, and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Lamont added her signature to a February 2012 letter urging Glasgow City Council to decline an application by the Scottish Defence League to stage a march through the city. The group—an offshoot of the far-right English Defence League—subsequently withdrew their application, and a "static" demonstration was held instead.
She gave her first conference speech as party leader at Scottish Labour's conference in March 2012, setting out an agenda for rebuilding confidence in the party. Later the same month she welcomed the passing of the Scotland Bill devolving further powers to Scotland in accordance with the recommendations of the Calman Commission, praising it as "an important development of devolution". In May 2012, she participated in the Scottish Parliament debate paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth as the UK celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. "60 years in the one job is good going - I've been in this one for just six months and some days, I have to say, it feels like 60 years - so we recognise the scale of the achievement of the particular, very strong woman." She was a guest on the 7 June 2012 edition of the BBC's political debate programme Question Time.
Standing in the polls
A poll conducted by Ipsos MORI in December 2011 as Lamont took control of Scottish Labour indicated the party had an approval rating of 26 percent, almost half that of the Scottish National Party with 51 percent. A survey conducted by the same organisation in June 2012 showed an improvement for Labour, with 32 percent, while the Nationalists had 45. The same poll indicated a personal approval rating for Lamont of 9 percent, compared to 13 percent for Alex Salmond. A poll conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of STV in September 2013 indicated that 37 percent of respondents were satisfied with Labour's performance compared to 41 percent for the SNP. That survey found that Lamont had a personal approval rating of +6 percent, compared to +8 for Salmond.
Local elections and Dunfermline by-election
Lamont launched Labour's 2012 local election campaign in Edinburgh on 17 April 2012, setting out policies for creating employment and training opportunities, as well as improvements to education and childcare. Claiming that the SNP government had passed on 89 percent of the spending cuts imposed by the UK government, she compared the Nationalists to the businessman criticised for his role in the financial collapse of Glasgow Rangers Football Club. "Putting the SNP in charge of a council is like putting Craig Whyte in charge of your tax return." Retaining control of Glasgow City Council, where Labour was facing a strong challenge from the SNP was also one of the party's key objectives. The elections, held on 3 May saw Labour hold on to Glasgow, and take control of several other councils, including Edinburgh, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire. Following the polls, John Curtice, writing for The Guardian observed that Lamont "has undoubtedly done enough to dispel doubts about whether she was the right woman for the job." Lamont said of her party's results, "Last year, Scottish people sent us a clear message – we had to up our game and put their interests before the party’s. We’ve taken a major step forward in rebuilding their faith in us."
Labour faced another test of its popularity at the 2013 Dunfermline by-election, triggered by the resignation of the SNP's Bill Walker in the wake of his conviction on several accounts of domestic abuse. The campaign was fought mainly on local issues, such as education cuts. On the eve of the poll, The Daily Telegraph's Alan Cochrane described it as an election Labour could not afford to lose, because "For her [Lamont's] personal prestige, her candidate simply must win." Labour won the seat with a swing of 7 percent from the SNP and a majority of 2,873. Welcoming the result, Lamont said, "The results give us great heart in the progress we’vemade." However, political academic John Curtice suggested that if the results were repeated across Scotland, the SNP would still be the majority party at the next election.
Independence referendum and Commission on devolution
Lamont is a prominent figure in the Better Together Campaign, the cross-party political movement founded to keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom following the SNP's announcement of a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. She has also been outspoken in her opposition to Scottish independence, using a keynote speech at UK Labour's 2013 conference in Brighton to accuse the SNP of nurturing hostility between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and describing nationalism as a "virus that has affected so many nations and done so much harm". Lamont is, however, in favour of greater devolved powers for the Scottish Parliament, and established a Commission to look at how this can be achieved.
After taking office as Labour leader in December 2011, Lamont urged First Minister Alex Salmond to set a date for the referendum, addressing the issue in her leadership acceptance speech, where she argued that the uncertainty over the referendum's timeline was having a negative impact on Scotland. On 10 January 2012, Salmond announced Autumn 2014 as his preferred date for a referendum. The Scottish Government subsequently confirmed the referendum question on 25 January 2012, and announced on 21 March 2013 that the referendum would be held on 18 September 2014. Lamont told Scottish Labour's 2012 annual conference she wanted her party's campaign to be one of "collective leadership" against independence, a strategy which she envisaged would become a cross-party movement arguing the case for keeping Scotland in the union. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called for Lamont and her opponents to work together at her party's Scottish conference a few weeks later. The Better Together Campaign, fronted by former UK Government minister Alistair Darling was launched at an event attended by Lamont and other senior Scottish political figures at Edinburgh's Napier University on 25 June 2012. The Scottish Government published Scotland's Future, a White paper setting out its vision for an independent Scotland on 26 November 2013. Lamont dismissed the document as "670 pages of assertion and uncertainty".
Lamont announced her intention to establish a Commission looking at the prospect of a fully devolved Scottish Parliament—known as Devo Plus—at her party's Scottish Conference in March 2012. The option would give the Scottish Government the power to make decisions on policies relating to issues such as welfare benefits, income tax and corporation tax, effectively making it a fully self-governing region of the United Kingdom. The Commission—chaired by Lamont, and including politicians, academics and trade union members—met for the first time in October 2012. The Devolution Commission published an interim report in April 2013, recommending Scotland have autonomy over income tax, but leaving decisions on corporation tax and welfare to Westminster. However, Lamont faced opposition from members of her party, who warned the plans could threaten the Barnett formula, the financial mechanism under which Scotland receives an annual average of £1,600 per head more in UK Government spending compared to the rest of the UK. Ian Davidson, chair of the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee said the proposals could affect spending in poorer areas.
Free public services debate
In September 2012, Lamont announced a policy review of Scotland's universal benefits, signalling that a future Labour administration would reverse many of the free services introduced since power was devolved to Scotland. Launching the review at an address to party delegates in Edinburgh, she questioned whether services such as prescriptions and tuition fees—which are free in Scotland—should continue to be available to all, regardless of income, and suggested the present situation was unsustainable. "I believe our resources must go to those in greatest need. Alex Salmond's most cynical trick was to make people believe that more was free, when the poorest are paying for the tax breaks for the rich...Scotland cannot be the only something-for-nothing country in the world."
The speech was condemned by the SNP, which branded it as "Blairite", while the party's Deputy Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, called the strategy disastrous. The approach was also questioned by The Guardian's Richard Seymour, who suggested it could damage Labour's electoral appeal. "Outside Scotland, this policy would merely be a gift to the Tories, by corroborating their arguments for welfare cuts. In Scotland, it reminds ex-Labour voters why they defected to the SNP: as a defensive shield against such policies."
The issue of universal tuition fees was again addressed by Lamont at a speech in Glasgow to mark the first anniversary of her election as Labour leader on 17 December 2012. Recalling the Graduate Endowment—a system abolished by the SNP Government—she suggested this could be reinstated if Labour were re-elected at the nexs Scottish election. Her comments were welcomed as "courageous" by Ian Grant, a retired college principal. However, Jamie Kinlochan, a member of the National Union of Students expressed concerns that students would be discouraged by extra financial costs on top of loans and other expenses.
Falkirk candidate selection row and Grangemouth dispute
In 2013, Labour and Police Scotland launched separate investigations into claims that officials within the Unite union had signed up members to Labour in order to get their preferred candidate adopted to represent the party in the Falkirk constituency; they were later cleared of any wrongdoing. Subsequent claims were made that key evidence thought to have been retracted, had not been withdrawn, prompting several Falkirk councillors to urge the UK Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband to publish details of the party's internal inquiry or hold a fresh investigation. Speaking on the 4 November edition of Good Morning Scotland, Lamont said there was a case for a fresh inquiry, but that Labour does not publish details of its internal investigations. Later the same day, Labour said that it would not be reopening the investigation. Miliband subsequently said that a new investigation was unnecessary. On 8 December, the former MSP Karen Whitefield was selected to contest the seat.
In October 2013, Lamont faced criticism for her reaction to an industrial dispute at the Grangemouth Oil Refinery. Ineos—the company that operates the plant—had stated that the facility was making financial losses, and offered a survival plan requiring employees to accept worse employment terms, particularly on pensions, which they rejected. The company mothballed the plant, threatening to close it if the terms were not accepted. Lamont urged Ineos to withdraw its conditions and for both sides to hold talks, while Alex Salmond attempted to negotiate an agreement. Union officials subsequently aquiesced, agreeing not to call their members out on strike for at least three years, and the plant reopened. Ineos's Chairman, Calum MacLean described Lamont's support for the trade unions during the dispute as "deeply irresponsible", while Salmond claimed she had been silent throughout the disagreement. While suggesting that Lamont's silence probably had much to do with the continuing Falkirk selection row, Natalie McGarry of the Dunfermline Press wrote, "When the chips were down, Johann Lamont was found wanting."
Politics and views
Although she has been criticised by SNP politicians for taking a "Blairite" stance on public services, The Guardian's Peter Hetherington has observed Lamont is "rooted to older [Labour] party values, with a deep commitment to fairness". Her politics were heavily influenced by her inner city upbringing and her career in teaching. Her childhood experience was something she addressed in an emotional speech to delegates at the 2013 Scottish Labour Party Conference. "I saw in my upbringing the beauty of our land and felt both the warmth of community and the harshness and brutality at times of trying to make a living here. I had the privilege to grow up in a family of love, but one where my mother always reminded me that what we ate, what we wore, where we lived, was all the product of the sweat of my father’s brow earned at sea. And I respected that."
Throughout her career, Lamont has campaigned on issues such as equality and violence against women. Her profile on the Scottish Parliament website lists her political interests as being focussed on tackling poverty, women’s rights and disability issues. She often highlights the personal stories of members of the public at First Minister's Questions, something she believes brings an element of real life into the Parliament. Along with the Parliament's other opposition leaders, Lamont signed the Equality Network's Equal Marriage Pledge in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in January 2012. As someone with a Gaelic background, she has spoken of her belief in the importance of providing support for the language, feeling it has an economic benefit for Scotland.
Lamont has said that Labour lost the 2011 Scottish Parliament election because the party lost its direction, and that having failed to recognise the 2007 result as a defeat, picked up the wrong signals from the 2010 general election that saw a strong Scottish Labour vote at Westminster. In February 2012 she told the Times Educational Supplement, "We misread the 2010 (general) election, thinking it was confirmation that Scotland was a Labour country - it was probably confirmation that Scotland was still anti-Tory. There’s an issue about rebuilding trust, and our confidence in the values that brought us into politics." She told delegates at her party's 2012 Scottish conference that it was time for them to stop apologising for past mistakes. "We know what happened last May - we looked tired and complacent and we got the kind of beating we deserved. But now, we need to start building the kind of Scottish Labour Party which Scotland deserves and which Scotland needs."
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday in September 2013, Lamont signalled her support for the creation of a land tax as part of reforms to local taxation, suggesting that the council tax freeze introduced by the SNP had resulted in underfunding. At her party's 2013 conference in Brighton, Lamont said that Labour would reverse the Conservatives' controversial bedroom tax if elected as the UK Government at the next general election in 2015.
Following her inaugural session of First Minister's Questions on 22 December 2011, the BBC's Brian Taylor gave a positive assessment of Lamont's performance, calling it "confident, direct and salient." The Daily Telegraph's Alan Cochrane has suggested she emerges as the prevailing force at the weekly debates with Alex Salmond, writing in May 2013, "it's been obvious for some time to those of us in the cheap seats that Johann Lamont has more than got his measure." The Guardian's Peter Hetherington is also positive about her performance in the Scottish Parliament, quoting an unnamed political observer at Holyrood who said, "She's getting under his skin like no predecessor." Writing for The Scotsman as Scottish Labour gathered for its conference in April 2013, Andrew Whitaker felt that Lamont's tenure as party leader had been successful, citing her weekly exchanges with Alex Salmond at First Minister's Questions and Labour's local election achievements as examples. "Ms Lamont has made Labour at Holyrood respectable again and less of the laughing stock than the ravaged party that emerged from heavy defeat in 2011."
However, her media appearances have been criticised for their awkwardness. In September 2012, Richard Seymour of The Guardian described how she "fluffed her lines" during an interview with STV reporter Bernard Ponsonby following her announcement of Labour's public service policy review. The Scotsman's Peter Ross cites another interview in which she was repeatedly questioned about her views on the UK Trident programme, but describes her in person as "articulate, reflective, self-deprecating and at times very funny. It would be unfair to condemn her for not being a sound-bite politician; she ought to be applauded for it, but the trouble is we live in a sound-bite age." Mandy Rhodes of Holyrood Magazine has described Lamont as despite having "a reputation as being a bit of a fierce one, is actually, really rather entertaining, engaging and wonderfully self-deprecating."
The former Labour politician George Galloway has compared Lamont unfavourably to the James Bond character Rosa Klebb, writing in a Daily Record article a few days before her election as Labour leader, "If there is a less appealing political figure in world politics, I've yet to meet them."
Lamont is married to Archie Graham, the Deputy Leader of Glasgow City Council and Labour councillor for Langside ward. Together they have two children. She is a fan of the television soap Coronation Street and likes to keep fit by walking, jogging and dancing.
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- Personal Information, at the Scottish Parliament website
- johannlamont.blogspot.com Blog
- www.johannlamontmsp.co.uk Constituency website
|Member of the Scottish Parliament
for Glasgow Pollok
|Party political offices|
|Leader of the Scottish Labour Party