Senior Labour figures, including two former Cabinet ministers, have piled more pressure on Richard Leonard by adding their voices to the calls for him to quit.
Former Defence Secretary George Robertson and former Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell joined Labour peer Lord Foulkes and former MI6 officer Meta Ramsay in calling for him to consider his position.
The four politicians have written to the Scottish Labour leader, warning him that the party faces a dismal showing at next year’s Scottish election if he stays in post and that urgent action must be taken to turn around the party.
In spite of your best efforts over the past three years our support in Scotland has been falling dramatically, resulting in the loss of seats at every level and the prospects for the Scottish Parliament election next year look even worse.”
Letter from four Labour grandees
The letter came to light a few hours after Rachel Reeves, the current UK Labour front bencher, suggested he should resign.
In a devastating verdict on Mr Leonard’s leadership, Lord Robertson, Baroness Liddell, Baroness Ramsay and Lord Foulkes accuse him of failing to connect with voters and criticise him for refusing to step aside.
“In spite of your best efforts over the past three years our support in Scotland has been falling dramatically, resulting in the loss of seats at every level and the prospects for the Scottish Parliament election next year look even worse,” the letter states.
“It is clear to us and to many within the party, that you have, sadly, not been able to make an impact with the Scottish public and your recent response to criticism by intensifying your campaign appears to have resulted in no improvement.”
They add: “We are therefore asking you to do what is best for the party, and the country, and consider whether continuing as leader of Scottish Labour is in the interests of both the party and the people we seek to serve.
“We have no doubt about your sincerity and that is why we hope you will recognise our plea not as any criticism of your personal commitment but just a recognition of the reality we now face and what needs to be done urgently to begin the restoration of our party.”
Meanwhile, Ms Reeves told Sky News: “I think that Richard Leonard needs to think about his position. The opinion polls in Scotland are pretty dire for Labour, we’ve got important elections next year.”
The views expressed by such senior sources within the Labour movement will increase the pressure on Mr Leonard. Their plea comes after Mr Leonard was asked to resign by four of his MSPs: Jenny Marra, James Kelly, Mark Griffin and Daniel Johnson. Mr Kelly and Mr Griffin quit the Holyrood front bench in protest at Mr Leonard’s leadership.
So far Mr Leonard has been intent on clinging on to his post, despite his poor personal ratings in the polls and forecasts of Labour losing more seats in May next year.
The internal row over Mr Leonard’s leadership has set the moderates within the Scottish party against left wingers like Neil Findlay who back the incumbent.
Leonard rules out Corbyn-style leadership contest
The letter came to light as Mr Leonard ruled out taking part in a leadership contest to silence doubters in Scottish Labour as he continued to dig in his heels.
In 2016 former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – an ally of Mr Leonard’s – defended his position against MP Owen Smith, winning more than 60% of the membership vote.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Leonard said he has received “hundreds of messages of support” but shut down talk of taking on a challenger from within the party.
When asked if he would consider accepting the challenge and putting the decision in the hands of members, Mr Leonard said: “I really don’t think that’s necessary.
“There’s a group within the parliamentary group in Holyrood who have never really accepted the decision of the party membership in 2017 to elect me as the Scottish Labour Party leader.
“I’ve always had to try to face down some of that opposition within the Labour group, but what I take heart from is the extent to which the party membership, those people who elected me to lead Scottish Labour, are voicing their support for me and are demanding that I do lead the Scottish Labour Party into next year’s elections.”
In my view, what the last few days have shown is that there are too many people that are inward looking – what we need to be as a party is outward looking.”
The leader went on to say the “radical agenda” proposed by his party is one that is associated with him, adding: “I think I represent the authentic voice of that platform.”
When pressed on the issue of a leadership election, Mr Leonard said the party’s attention should not be focused inward with an election due in eight months.
He said: “If the Labour party was convulsed into an internal leadership battle, that would take two to three months to get through, it just doesn’t make any sense for the Labour Party, even if I thought it would reassert my authority as the leader.
“In my view, what the last few days have shown is that there are too many people that are inward looking – what we need to be as a party is outward looking.”
Baroness Liddell was General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party and Secretary of State for Scotland
Lord Robertson is a former chairman of the Scottish Labour Party and was Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretary General of Nato.
Baroness Ramsay was an adviser to John Smith when he was party leader and is now on the Scottish Labour executive. Lord Foulkes is a former MP and MSP and chairman of the Scottish Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party.