THE Scottish Socialist party is to abandon its temporary collective style of leadership shared around its MSPs and revert to having a single leader to replace Tommy Sheridan, it was decided yesterday by the narrowest of margins.

The party's national council voted by 42 to 41, after a recount, to maintain the existing constitution which provides for a single national convener elected by one member-one vote, narrowly rejecting the alternatives on offer.

These could have involved scrapping the convenership and sharing the post between the MSPs in a collegiate style; creating an even broader leadership bringing in non-MSPs; or following the Greens in having two co-conveners on a genderbalanced basis.

An SSP spokesman said:

"There was a full and frank discussion on the options for the leadership. The vote was 42-41 for the constitutional status quo, and not to put any further options to the annual conference."

He added: "The national council was basically split down the middle between those who felt further debate and discussion on possible constitutional changes was not in the interests of the party and those who felt the conference should be given the opportunity to discuss these issues."

A motion from one wing of the party to reopen the whole issue of Mr Sheridan's resignation was withdrawn in advance of the national council meeting. The former convener, who is suing a newspaper over allegations concerning his private life, said he resigned because he and his wife were starting a family.

So far, only one candidate, Colin Fox, the Lothian MSP, has accepted a nomination to stand as successor to Mr Sheridan, who did not attend yesterday's meeting.

Carolyn Leckie, the Central Scotland MSP, is thought likely to stand. Alan McCombes, the party's most senior official, has also refused to rule himself out, though most will feel that if it is to be a single leader he or she should probably come from parliamentary ranks.

The results of the ballot, if the leadership is contested, will be announced at the party's national conference, planned for February in Aberdeen.

Had yesterday's vote gone the other way, it would have posed an organisational headache, since the change in constitution would have had to be agreed at the national conference after campaigning had already taken place.

Most in the SSP now hope it can all be put behind the party, which can look forward instead to the hustings for the leadership and the Westminster election campaign beyond.

The national council yesterday also ordered the hierarchy of the party to draw up a radical manifesto for the next general election, reflecting both reserved and devolved policy areas.

"In the Scottish Parliament elections, we have been constrained by the issues that the parliament has powers over but there was broad agreement that for the Westminster election we should have a radical, upfront manifesto on a whole range of issues, " said the spokesman.