Four Scottish Labour grandees and a senior member of Sir Keir Starmer's Shadow Cabinet yesterday joined the chorus of demands for Richard Leonard to quit now for the good of the party and the Union as he vowed to dig in.
The four peers - George Robertson, Helen Liddell, Meta Ramsay and George Foulkes - sent a joint letter to Richard Leonard urging him to "do what is best for the party, and the country" by resigning.
They said that support for the party has fallen "dramatically" since he took over in 2017, "resulting in the loss of seats at every level and the prospects for the Scottish Parliament election next year look even worse."
Arguing "urgent" change is needed to prevent an electoral rout next year, they urged him to recognise "the reality we now face and what needs to be done urgently to begin the restoration of our party."
It was sent only hours after Rachel Reeves, Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, urged Mr Leonard to "consider his position" amid "pretty dire" opinion polls.
The peers' letter was the latest stage in a coordinated campaign by party moderates to oust him, with four senior MSPs breaking ranks on Wednesday to demand he quit.
Mr Robertson, now Lord Robertson of Port Ellon, is a former Defence Secretary and Nato general secretary. Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke was Scottish Secretary and British High Commissioner to Australia.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale was a senior MI6 officer and Lord Foulkes of Cumnock is a former junior minister, MP and MSP.
But Mr Leonard insisted he will cling on, arguing that the party's best chance in May's Holyrood election is to "unite behind me" despite its dismal ratings.
He argued no one else would make a "better leader" and warned the plotters he would contest any leadership challenge, accusing them of "an act of sabotage".
"I think that Richard Leonard needs to think about his position."@RachelReevesMP is asked whether Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard should stand down after four of the party's MSPs resigned.— SkyNews (@SkyNews) September 3, 2020
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Sir Keir said that he and Mr Leonard had a "very good working relationship" and they "both know how to rebuild trust in the Labour Party."
Although sources said he does not have confidence in Mr Leonard, it is understood Sir Keir will not directly intervene as this would fuel SNP claims that Scottish Labour is merely a "branch office" of the UK party.
The party has suffered dismal poll ratings and electoral results in Mr Leonard's tenure and insiders have warned that "without some kind of revival of Scottish Labour, the Union is in peril."
A weak Labour is expected to help the SNP win more Left-wing votes next May, boosting Nicola Sturgeon's hopes of a Holyrood majority and a second independence referendum.
The First Minister this week unveiled plans for a new Independence Referendum Bill, complete with timetable, to be published ready for the next parliament.
Scottish Labour grandees and peers Helen Liddell, Meta Ramsay, George Robertson and George Foulkes have joined calls for Richard Leonard to consider resigning. This from letter to Scottish Labour leader 👇 pic.twitter.com/1uPTFs75T8— Nick Eardley (@nickeardleybbc) September 3, 2020
In their letter to Mr Leonard, the four peers said they were sure he would "wish to do everything possible" to return Labour governments at Holyrood and Westminster but support for the party had declined markedly "despite your best efforts."
They continued: “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.
“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."
The peers concluded: “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.”
Lab's @Keir_Starmer ducks out of criticising @LabourRichard. Spokesman: “This is a matter for Scottish Labour, Keir & Richard have a very good working relationship, both focused on next year's Scottish election where we are determined to challenge SNP on their domestic record"— Torcuil Crichton (@Torcuil) September 2, 2020
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."
MSPs James Kelly, Jenny Marra, Daniel Johnson and Mark Griffin urged Mr Leonard to resign on Wednesday, warning that he is leading the party to an electoral catastrophe.
However, Mr Leonard threatened to deselect them as candidates for May's election and he noted that Ms Reeves is not a Scottish Labour member.
He dismissed reports that a leadership contest could be triggered by five MSPs, saying there were no such rules, but insisted he would stand against anyone who did challenge him.