Tom Gordon

Paul Hutcheon

GORDON Matheson is under growing pressure to quit as Glasgow City Council leader after it emerged his Labour colleagues had drafted a letter designed to topple him within weeks.

The letter, which is due to be circulated among councillors this weekend, calls for a showdown with Matheson over his bid to become Scottish Labour's deputy leader.

If he becomes deputy, Matheson would have an automatic right to the top spot on Labour's Glasgow list for Holyrood next year, all but guaranteeing he would become an MSP.

The move has angered many Labour councillors, who want a leader focused on the SNP threat at the 2017 local elections, not one hoping to catch a "lifeboat" to Holyrood.

As a result, Matheson's political career has been in the balance since Wednesday, when he was urged to resign at a marathon meeting of the council's ruling Labour group.

He finally agreed to stand down in February, regardless of whether he became deputy or not.

However the compromise timetable has failed to satisfy his critics, who want him gone by August to give a new leader enough time to prepare for 2017.

In order to force him out, a letter is now to be circulated among Glasgow's 45 Labour councillors calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of the Labour group.

It says: "We the undersigned call, as per Glasgow Labour Group's standing orders, for an EGM to be held on Monday 10 August 2015 to consider the future of the Group leader."

The date is the earliest Labour can meet after it fights four council by-elections on August 6.

In theory, two-thirds of Labour councillors would have to sign it to force a meeting, but the rebels believe that if half do so the pressure to hold an EGM would be irresistible.

Matheson may also calculate that if half his group is willing to sign, his time is up and it would be better to go with some dignity intact.

Those behind the letter expect ten signatures by Monday and claim pledges of 15 more.

The first signatories are expected to include several veterans who have long despaired of Matheson's leadership, including George Redmond and Alistair Watson.

However rebels say the discontent goes wider than the 'usual suspects', with a new generation of councillors also calling for change and a focus on 2017.

Cllr Frank McAveety, who is tipped as a new leader, said last week: "It's not personal, it's about the future of the party and the city. The majority of the group think it would be better if Gordon's transition is sooner rather than later so the group is ready for the elections in 2017."

Another councillor complained that Matheson had signally failed to address the implications for Labour of Glasgow voting Yes in the referendum and then voting SNP at the general election.

"He says he takes responsibility. Does he f***. Gordon doesn't care. He's shameless. Everything he's done has always been about him."

Another councillor added: "One of Gordon's psychological weaknesses is that he thinks the more coverage he gets, the more important he his. He's a rather odd man."

Matheson is understood to be short of allies at the City Chambers, with senior colleagues staying silent during Wednesday's four-hour meeting instead of speaking up for him.

However he does appear to have the backing of Scottish Labour HQ, with sources saying Scottish Secretary Brian Roy has been making calls to rally support.

Matheson's main rival for the Scottish deputy's job is MSP Alex Rowley, a former general secretary of Scottish Labour and ex-leader of Fife Council.

Unison last week backed Rowley for the deputy's post and Kezia Dugdale for leader.

A Dugdale-Rowley ticket would offer youth and experience, but Dugdale-Matheson would have the attraction of covering both the west and east coast, as Dugdale is a Lothians MSP.

Other possible leaders for Glasgow include city treasurer Paul Rooney and the current deputy leader, Archie Graham.

Glasgow SNP MSP Sandra White said: "It seems Labour is in a shambles at every level. At a time of austerity and Tory cuts, Labour in Glasgow should be focusing on the needs of people in this city - instead they are obsessing over their own internal divisions and feuds."

A spokesman for Matheson said: "This small group did not have 25 supporters on Wednesday and they do not have 25 supporters now.

"This self-obsessed behaviour is what has caused the Labour party problems and is exactly the kind of behaviour that Gordon will tackle should he be elected deputy leader."