SCOTTISH Labour’s shadow cabinet is in turmoil over the UK party decision to stop funding former leader Kezia Dugdale’s legal fees in her battle against a pro-independence blogger.

Leaked messages on a WhatsApp group for Labour MSPs and staff reveal the scale of the infighting among some of the party’s most senior figures at Holyrood, including Jackie Baillie, Neil Findlay and Anas Sarwar.

The row only cooled down after a Labour spin doctor informed MSPs that there are “better forums” for a “private conversation” between parliamentarians.

The leak came amid strong suggestions party leader Richard Leonard is considering an imminent shadow cabinet reshuffle in an attempt to get a grip of his divided MSP group, which meets for its weekly session this afternoon.

Mr Leonard, a left winger, became his party’s ninth leader in the devolution era last year after an acrimonious contest against moderate MSP Anas Sarwar.

He won the internal election comfortably, but a majority of MSPs voted for Mr Sarwar and Mr Leonard’s allies believe he has not received full support from colleagues.

Critics of Mr Leonard argue he is is too close to Jeremy Corbyn and has become a “branch office” leader north of the border.

Mr Leonard and his MSP colleagues have now fallen out over UK Labour’s actions in the defamation case pursued by Stuart Campbell, who runs the Wings over Scotland blog, against Ms Dugdale, who led the party between 2015 and 2017.

Although Labour initially agreed to meet the costs of Ms Dugdale’s legal fees, which are thought to have totalled around £95,000 so far, new general secretary Jennie Formby recently called time on the arrangement.

Labour MSPs, believing Ms Dugdale has been treated badly, are furious and want Mr Leonard to intervene.

The MSP group last week agreed to issue a public statement calling on the Formby decision to be reversed, but it is understood Mr Leonard and his supporters disagreed with the wording and a general “solidarity” message was sent instead.

On Thursday, Leonard ally Rhoda Grant MSP, who as party business manager holds a key position in the leader’s top team, disputed a print journalist’s assessment of the solidarity statement on Twitter.

Ms Grant’s tweet triggered a series of messages on the WhatsApp group which confirmed the divisions between left-wingers who defend Formby and moderates who are angry about the decision.

In a dig at Ms Grant, Baillie, who has been one of the strongest critics of the Formby decision behind the scenes, wrote:

“I have just arrived home to see a tweet from Rhoda….Firstly I don’t think it is sensible to respond to the press like this. Secondly I don’t want to publicly disagree with the Business Manager about what actually took place at the group.”

Ms Baillie is the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work and played a key role in Mr Sarwar’s leadership campaign.

Mr Findlay, a Corbynista and Leonard loyalist who is the shadow cabinet secretary for Brexit, hit back sarcastically: “Ha the irony in this is something else Jackie.”

Ms Baillie retorted: “Really? So what’s ironic? We have a duty of care to all members of our group. It’s not about factions this is about all of us.”

Mr Findlay replied: “Factions?”

Party head of media Kieron Higgins intervened and issued a “reminder” that “staff” are also part of the WhatsApp group: “There are better forums for what is clearly a private conversation for parliamentarians.”

Ms Baillie replied: “Thank you Kieron.” Sarwar, who holds the health portfolio in the shadow cabinet, then implied that the decision of the Labour group had been ignored:

“Thanks Kieron. You are right. That forum is the group. The decisions of that group should then be respected.”

A party source said of the messages: “Richard has no authority over the group. If he is serious about leading Scottish Labour he should be apologising to MSPs for the mess created by Jeremy’s team.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “This brutal exchange points to a party in absolute meltdown. This is a problem entirely of Labour’s own making, and one that could have easily been avoided. Instead, they’re now at each other’s throats. They can’t possibly do a job of standing up to the SNP while this sort of nonsense goes on.”

A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: "We don't comment on leaks."