Richard Leonard has resigned as Scottish Labour leader, saying it is in the best interests of the party for him to stand down.
The left-winger’s resignation leaves the party without a leader four months from an election.
Mr Leonard said he believed speculation about his leadership had become a “distraction”.
And he said he would be stepping down with immediate effect.
A member of the Scottish parliament from the party’s left wing and ally of former U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Leonard took over Scottish Labour in 2017
His resignation comes just months ahead of the Scottish Parliament election, which is scheduled to be held in May.
Mr Leonard had been leader of the party for three years after succeeding Kezia Dugdale.
The former union official had faced open calls to quit from some of his own MSPs last year amid concerns that his leadership style could damage the party in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election.
The next leader will be the eighth in 14 years.
Scottish Labour dominated politics north of the border for years but it is now the third biggest party, behind the SNP and Conservatives.
The Labour Party has been on the decline for over a decade in Scotland. In the 2010 United Kingdom general election on 6 May 2010, contrary to polls preceding the election, Labour consolidated their vote in Scotland, losing no seats (despite losing 91 seats across the rest of Britain) and regained Glasgow East from the SNP.
In 2011 Labour had a net loss of 7 seats to again to the SNP.
The Labour party suffered a landslide defeat in the general election in May 2015, losing 40 of their 41 seats to the SNP.
Currently, the party has 23 seats in the Scottish Parliament – the third-largest in the Scottish Parliament.
In contrast, the SNP holds 61 seats in Holyrood, while the Tories have 30.
Mr Leonard’s leadership came under fire in 2020 when James Kelly and Mark Griffen resigned from his front bench team and called on him to resign.
An attempt to dislodge him failed at the weekend when a motion of no confidence tabled at the Scottish Executive Committee, the party’s governing body, was withdrawn.
Mr Leonard has hailed the withdrawal of the motion as a “watershed” and vowed to lead the Scottish party into next year’s Scottish election.
Behind the scenes, it was daggers drawn
It was reported in the Times: Senior Labour figures including Angela Rayner and David Evans held a call last night with potential donors who warned they would not back the party while Richard Leonard remained in post.
People on the call included Willie Haughey, the veteran Labour donor and businessman, and Robert Latham, the human rights lawyer who gave £100k to Starmer’s leadership campaign Jackie Baillie, the deputy leader who will stand in for Leoanrd, and Ian Murray were also present.
NEW on Richard Leonard w/ @KieranPAndrews— Eleni Courea (@EleniCourea) January 14, 2021
Senior Labour figures including Angela Rayner and David Evans held a call last night with potential donors who warned they would not back the party while he remained in posthttps://t.co/dcydGhQaUL
Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for Lothian, one of Scottish Labour’s most effective parliamentarians for a decade, accused his comrades of “internal sabotage”. earlier this month.
Findlay will be interpreted as targeting deputy leader Jackie Baillie, former leadership contestant Anas Sarwar, MSP Jenny Marra and former justice spokesman James Kelly. The full accusations can be read here in the Daily record.
These flinching cowards and sneering traitors make me sick.
Neil Findlay supporting Richard Leonard tweeted a verse from the Red flag.” flinching cowards and sneering traitors” were responsible for Mr Leonard’s downfall and they “make me sick”.
Looks like those who have led a 3 year campaign of briefings to journalists, leaks of private conversations and the constant feeding of stories to the media to bring down a decent and honest man have succeeded. These flinching cowards and sneering traitors make me sick.— Neil Findlay MSP (@NeilFindlay_MSP) January 14, 2021
“Looks like those who have led a 3 year campaign of briefings to journalists, leaks of private conversations and the constant feeding of stories to the media to bring down a decent and honest man have succeeded,” he tweeted.