SCOTTISH Labour is already preparing for a series of crushing defeats in next year’s local elections, the Sunday Herald can reveal.

Kezia Dugdale, who could face a leadership crisis after a bad result next May, discussed the party’s grim prospects with her shadow cabinet last week.

With another thrashing at the polls all but certain, the party’s plan is to downplay its chances to avoid Dugdale being blamed for a dramatic slump in support.

“It’s about managing expectations,” a senior source admitted.

The SNP said the strategy was unlikely to inspire Labour's candidates.

A spokesman commented: “It won’t fill Labour councillors with much hope if Kezia Dugdale is already planning for defeat this far out from the next year’s elections – although she can be forgiven for pessimism considering the utter mess the party is in across the UK."

At the 2012 council elections, Scottish Labour’s share of first preference votes climbed from 28.1 to 31.4 per cent, and its haul of councillors went from 348 to 394.

The SNP was narrowly ahead, which a 32.4 per cent vote share and 425 councillors.

However Labour emerged with more power thanks to town hall horse-trading, holding the reins of 15 of Scotland’s 32 councils, compared to nine councils led by the SNP.

Crucially for morale, the party also kept control of its prized Glasgow and North Lanarkshire heartlands.

But Labour’s fortunes have nose-dived since thanks to its alliance with the Tories in the independence referendum and infighting under Jeremy Corbyn.

Last year's general election saw Labour lose 40 of its 41 Scottish seats, as its vote share fell from 42 to 24.3 per cent.

It declined again in May’s Holyrood election, losing 13 of 37 MSPs as its constituency vote fell from 31.7 to 22.6 per cent and its list vote from 26.3 to just 19.1 per cent.

A YouGov poll a fortnight ago put Scottish Labour down yet again, on just 15 per cent, with the Tories on 21.

That halving of support since 2012 has forced Labour bosses to plan for big losses next May, including Glasgow and North Lanarkshire.

It will be a dangerous moment for Dugdale, who has already alienated many of her members by backing Owen Smith against Jeremy Corbyn for the UK Labour leadership.

With Corbyn expected to be re-elected comfortably later this month, Dugdale could face a leadership challenge from a pro-Corbyn MSP.

A leading member of Corbyn’s London operation recently told the Sunday Herald: "The left in Scotland is in the process of realignment and that process does not involve Kezia Dugdale. She should be out in the wilderness."

And former Scottish Labour treasurer Bob Thomson warned 2017 could seal Dugdale's fate.

“It wouldn't be sensible to replace the [Scottish] leader now. The proof will be in the pudding in next May's local elections. I don't think she could survive two election defeats.”

The SNP spokesman said: “The SNP will take nothing for granted next year, but Labour have a big fight to win back public trust and increasingly lack the stomach for anything other than internal bickering.”