Two Scottish Labour rebels who have called for Richard Leonard to quit have asked the party’s general secretary about the rules for starting a leadership contest.
A letter from James Kelly, who resigned from the party’s frontbench last week, and Daniel Johnson asks for clarity about if and how a leadership challenge can take place.
The pair were two of the four MSPs who called for Mr Leonard to step down, with Scottish Labour languishing behind the SNP and Conservatives in the polls.
They claim to have the support of three other MSPs who would back plans to trigger a leadership election.
Scottish Labour sources have suggested there is no procedure in place for challenging a sitting Scottish Labour leader but Mr Kelly and Mr Johnson said: “We believe this is an inaccurate interpretation of the rules.”
They claim the leader can be challenged with the agreement of 20% of the parliamentary party, adding: “On this basis, our understanding is that five signatures is sufficient to initiate a challenge.
“We have five members willing to sign such a challenge.
“We therefore request clarification on this matter at the earliest opportunity.”
The letter concludes: “We reject the implication that, once installed, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party enjoys indefinite tenure.
“This is not democratic and goes against our party’s fundamental principles and values.
“This action has been driven by sorrow, not anger, after Richard Leonard has failed to command the support of MSPs, Labour activists and most importantly, the Scottish people.
“We are pleading with Richard, once again, to put our party first and to stand aside so that we can start the urgent work to regain the trust of the Scottish people ahead of next year’s election under a new leader.”
Responding to the letter and the suggestion that 20% of the parliamentary party could trigger an election in the way former MP Owen Smith challenged Jeremy Corbyn, Scottish Labour general secretary Michael Sharpe said that he was “not aware of any such precedent on this issue” for the Scottish Party.
Labour’s rulebook states: “The leader and deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party shall be elected according to the procedural rules set out by the Scottish Executive Committee.”
However, the Scottish Labour Party has not yet been able to provide details of the Committee’s rules.
Commenting on the letter, Mr Leonard said: “Those same people who last week called on me to step down have yet again underestimated my resolve and the mandate I received from Scottish Labour Party members.
“Scottish Labour Party members know only too well what a dereliction of duty it would be for the party to turn in on itself at the very point when the country is facing an unprecedented crisis.”
Asked if he would consider accepting a leadership challenge and putting the decision into the hands of members, Mr Leonard has 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.”