RICHARD Leonard has emerged as the clear favourite to lead Scottish Labour among party branches, as infighting worsens amid allegations of a “rigged” contest.

The left-wing MSP was nominated by 43 constituency Labour parties (CLPs), compared to 16 for centrist Anas Sarwar.

Mr Leonard, a former GMB official, also picked up almost every trade union endorsement.

He was backed by ten unions including Unite, Unison, Usdaw, CWU, GMB Scotland, Aslef and the TSSA, as well as by the Scottish Co-operative Party and Scottish Young Labour.

Mr Sarwar was supported by just one union, the small centre-right outfit Community.

The leadership race was yesterday rocked by an accusation from Labour MP Ian Murray, a supporter of Mr Sarwar, that it was being “rigged” in support of Mr Leonard.

The Edinburgh South MP, who quit as shadow Scottish Secretary last year over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, complained to Scottish Labour HQ about a recruitment drive by Unite.

Unite called on him to “withdraw his baseless smears” and said it was concerned at “repeated and underhand efforts to bring this election and our union into disrepute".

Mr Murray’s allegation followed claims of high numbers of new Asian members being signed up for the vote, with some sharing common contact details and email addresses.

The contest, one of the dirtiest political scraps in recent times, still has five weeks left to run, with the winner announced on November 18.

Mr Leonard’s nominations included most of the CLPs in Mr Sarwar’s home turf of Glasgow.

However Mr Sarwar was backed by Mr Leonard’s local CLP in Paisley and by 96 councillors to Mr Leonard’s 85.

Mr Leonard said: “Let’s conduct this debate in a comradely fashion, and ensure the Scottish Labour Party is strengthened and better able to advance and deliver real change for people.”

Mr Sarwar said: "There are two weeks before ballot papers land. I will be travelling the country to listen to the Labour movement about how we put our values at the heart of Scotland's future."