LABOUR’s shadow chancellor has likened the problems faced by Scottish party leader Richard Leonard to the attempts to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn.

John McDonnell said Mr Leonard, who reshuffled his shadow cabinet this week amid infighting with MSP colleagues, was experiencing “exactly” the same difficulties as the UK leader endured in the early days of his leadership.

Responding to claims that Mr Leonard is weak, Mr McDonnell said: “He will be no-one’s nodding dog.”

Mr Leonard, a left wing supporter of Mr Corbyn, became Scottish Labour leader last year after defeating moderate MSP Anas Sarwar in a bitter contest.

Allies of Mr Leonard believed Mr Sarwar was unsupportive following the contest and he and his ally, MSP Jackie Baillie, were fired from the shadow cabinet three days ago.

Party sources countered by saying Mr Leonard had removed two of the most able MSPs from his top team, adding that claims of briefings against him amounted to paranoia.

Mr McDonnell, who is Mr Corbyn’s closest ally at Westminster, told the Herald on Sunday:

“Richard's election was a huge breakthrough for the progressive politics Scotland desperately needs.

“What people need to do, both in terms of MSPs, the shadow cabinet and the party overall, is get behind the man who will lead Labour to victory.”

The shadow chancellor also drew a comparison with the difficulties faced by Mr Corbyn, who experienced a shadow cabinet walkout and a leadership challenge.

“The most important lesson we have learned from Jeremy’s leadership is, yes, there might be some people who might not be completely supportive, but if they can get onside and the party can unite, we can be in a situation, as we were in the last general election, where we outperformed all expectations.”

He added: “It’s exactly as Jeremy went through in that first period. I don’t think it’s as bad as that, but I think it is very much like it.”

Mr McDonnell pointed to Mr Leonard’s victory last year as a likely source of tension:

“In all [leadership] elections, there’s always some elements that have the potential for grudges because they have not won, because they havn’t succeeded, and they have found it difficult to come to terms with the new political climate.”

He also addressed the party’s decision to stop funding the legal fees of former Scottish leader Kezia Dugdale, who is being sued for defamation by a pro-independence blogger.

Labour general secretary Jennie Formby called a halt to the support after reviewing the case, a decision that angered MSPs.

He said: “That was a decision made by Jennie Formby, as she’s reviewing budgets. The general secretary has taken a decision on financial grounds.”

Asked about Labour MP Ian Murray describing Mr Leonard as Mr Corbyn’s “nodding dog”, he said: “He will be no-one’s nodding dog.”

A party source dismissed Mr McDonnell's comments: "This is utter nonsense from John McDonnell, creating conspiracies from nowhere. It's straight out of the Corbyn playbook - manufacture a made-up grievance as an excuse to purge moderate voices. Labour MSPs from all wings fully got behind Richard, but unfortunately people on the hard Left dreamt up something to justify their ideological factionalism."