RICHARD Leonard is said to enjoy little more than settling down in the evening with a book on the Labour movement.

To understand his own predicament, Scottish Labour’s ninth leader in the devolution era should study the short reign of one of his predecessors.

In 2000, after the death of Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish defeated Jack McConnell to become Scotland’s second First Minister.

However, despite McLeish possessing a mandate, McConnell’s supporters relished pointing out his obvious shortcomings.

McLeish had won thanks to the support of Labour Ministers and members of the party’s governing body, but his defeated colleague secured the votes of many backbench MSPs. McConnell may have lost, but he had a standing.

In the end, McLeish’s unparalleled uselessness was the sole factor behind his demise, but nonetheless McConnell’s allies had been less than helpful. When McLeish resigned after a disastrous year in charge, McConnell took over without a contest.

Seventeen years on, Leonard finds himself at his first party conference as leader struggling to get momentum while his party rivals hog the media coverage.

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To recap, Leonard defeated centrist MSP Anas Sarwar decisively. In US presidential terms, winning nearly 57% of the vote is a landslide.

The left-winger's problem is that an overwhelming majority of MSPs voted for Sarwar, not him. The same is probably true of MSP staffers. So while the new leader has a mandate throughout his party, he is in a minority on the Labour floor at Holyrood.

Nearly four months after becoming leader, Leonard has not made any significant full time hires and the number of people he genuinely trusts is limited. The first floor of the MSP block at Holyrood is a den of resentment and paranoia.

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Leonard’s allies are unhappy with Sarwar and his media savvy supporters. Weeks after the divisive leadership battle ended, Sarwar launched a high-profile campaign on racism and Islamophobia, a key part of which was to allege that prejudiced comments had been made during the contest.

Leonard is not soft on racism, but his friends are frustrated by the timing of Sarwar’s campaign. They believe the priority since November should have been to raise the leader 's profile, but instead the focus has been on Sarwar. One Leonard supporter referred to the Daily Record - the Glasgow MSP’s favourite newspaper - as the “Daily Sarwar”.

The ill-feeling escalated over the failure to suspend MP Hugh Gaffney for racist and homophobic comments. Sarwar sent colleagues a Whatsapp message complaining that the seating arrangements for First Minister's Questions - he was supposed to sit close to Leonard - were tokenistic. He refused to play ball and the gist of the message was leaked.

“Can you imagine a Cabinet Secretary refusing to sit next to Nicola Sturgeon,” one senior party source said.

Given that Sarwar is believed to have an ego as big as the profits of his family’s cash and carry firm, Leonard’s supporters are agitated. They believe Sarwar is waiting on Leonard to fail and sees himself as the next leader.

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The Leonard camp is also irritated by Kezia Dugdale, who is making noise on Brexit. She and her Edinburgh friends wanted a vote on membership of the single market this weekend and are peeved their call was rebuffed.

However, Leonard’s allies believe there has been already a vote on membership of the single market - otherwise known as the leadership result. Sarwar made the single market a huge part of his campaign, and he was gubbed.

According to her detractors, Dugdale herself had ample opportunity to change Scottish Labour policy on Brexit when she was leader. "Then she quit and went to Australia to make some money,” one insider said.

Dugdale’s high-volume approach is also raising questions about the role expected of past leaders.

One senior party figure said ex-leaders should provide support and guidance to their successors. Iain Gray was an invaluable source of advice for Dugdale, but the insider said the Lothians MSP seems intent on causing political trouble for her successor.

Of all Leonard's short-term challenges, the real change his supporters want him to make is dealing with the bruised egos in his own party.