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Scottish Labour campaigners slam “constant undermining” of new leadership

SCOTTISH Labour grandees have been accused of plotting against party leader Richard Leonard, following a week of negative headlines.

Today his predecessor Kezia Dugdale claimed for the first time that her resignation last year was over Labour’s Brexit stance, while STUC general secretary Grahame Smith accused Mr Leonard of “lacking leadership” on Brexit.

Days earlier, the Scottish Daily Mail received figures suggesting that the Unite union had spent more on backing Mr Leonard’s leadership bid than on Scottish Labour’s election campaign.

And on Thursday, a Holyrood insider leaked a story about former leadership contender Anas Sarwar apparently refusing to sit next to Mr Leonard during First Minister’s Questions.

Supporters of Mr Leonard’s leadership say that these events stem from a hard core of plotters on the party’s right who, in the words of an activist, are engaged in “the sort of refusal we saw to accept Corbyn’s victory in 2015, now being repeated in Scotland.” Mr Corbyn’s early leadership days were plagued by frequent negative briefings from some parliamentary colleagues.

The apparent seating snub was in response to an incident earlier this week, in which Labour MP Hugh Gaffney was reprimanded by the leadership for using the term “a chinky” to describe a Chinese takeaway during a speech.

Mr Sarwar and others have since accused Mr Leonard of giving a lacklustre response — but supporters argue that party procedures were followed to the letter, and Mr Gaffney’s immediate apology and acceptance of a public reprimand made an investigation unnecessary.

Mr Leonard has charged his party’s equalities and diversity sub-committee with creating comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment guidelines following this case and other allegations of racism that predate his leadership.

Several sources attribute much of the plotting to Alan Roden, who was political editor of the Scottish Daily Mail before becoming Scottish Labour’s director of communications, then running Mr Sarwar’s leadership bid.

More recently, he acted as a media adviser to Ms Dugdale during her controversial stint on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and now works for her in the Scottish Parliament.

One campaigner said it would be a let-down for the thousands of party members who elected Mr Leonard “if Roden, Dugdale and Sarwar are working together to undermine” him.

Ms Dugdale had previously claimed that her resignation was motivated not by policy disagreements but the death of an old friend.

A senior Labour source added: “From day one of Richard’s leadership, starting with Dugdale’s jungle trip, right up to today with the leak of her comments about resigning just as Jeremy Corbyn is due to visit, there has been a constant attempt to divert headlines away from Richard.”

The source called on Ms Dugdale and Mr Sarwar to “rein in” Mr Roden, “who is suspected of being at the heart of a dirty-tricks campaign against Richard, using all the experience he learned at the sexist, racist Daily Mail.”

“It really does beggar belief that, with his track record of articles attacking migrants, gay rights and so-called dole scroungers, that he is working for someone apparently so concerned with promoting an equalities agenda.”

Scottish Labour has surged in the polls since last year’s general election.

One activist said: “The reception for Labour’s platform is getting better every time we are out — time the naysayers got their head out of Holyrood and back into the heartlands.”

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