RICHARD Leonard has publicly distanced himself from his party south of the Border for the first time after Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell backed tax cuts for the better-off.

The Scottish Labour leader said raising the higher rate threshold “should not be a priority for the Scottish Government” and called for the richest to pay their fair share.

It comes after Mr McDonnell revealed his party would not reverse middle-class income tax cuts ushered in by Tory Chancellor Philip Hammond in his Budget on Monday.

He said a future Labour Government would introduce a fairer system, but added: “We will support the tax cuts at the moment on the basis that it will inject some demand into the economy.”

Mr Hammond announced he will raise the higher rate threshold from £46,350 to £50,000 from next April.

It currently sits at £43,340 in Scotland, where taxpayers pay 41p in the pound instead of 40p in England.

If the Scottish higher rate tax threshold is unchanged, someone earning £50,000 in Scotland would pay £1560 more than their English equivalent.

The SNP Government has suggested it will not follow suit when it unveils its Budget in December. The party challenged Mr Leonard “to oppose Tory tax cuts for the rich”.

Mr Leonard, who is seen as a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn and his leadership team, said: “We want to see a Scottish budget where the richest pay their fair share to properly fund public services and tackle inequality.

“The Tories have clearly broken their promise to end austerity. Income tax is devolved and raising the higher rate threshold should not be a priority for the Scottish government; we need a distinctive tax that meets the needs of the people of Scotland.”

Scottish Labour previously unveiled plans for a “radical” overhaul of Scotland’s income tax system.

It called for tax hikes for the better off, as well as a new 50p top rate for those earning more than £100,000.

A party insider said: “After a year of blindly following Corbyn, this is finally an opportunity to prove that Scottish Labour is not a branch office.

“John McDonnell’s baffling support for Tory tax cuts for the richest in society has infuriated Scottish Labour members.”

SNP MSP George Adam said: “It beggars belief that, in a time of continued austerity, the Labour party are backing a Tory handout to the wealthiest people in society.

“Slashing tax for high earners is a political choice – just as it’s a political choice to pass on the burden of austerity to the poorest.

“Labour voters will be so disappointed that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are lining up to endorse right-wing, trickle-down economics.

“If Richard Leonard expects to have any credibility he should come out and strongly oppose this Tory tax cut for the rich.”

Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary Murdo Fraser said it seemed "even the Marxist John McDonnell isn’t extreme enough for Richard Leonard".

He said: “It’s now clear there is a bidding war between the SNP and Labour to see who can punish hardworking Scots more severely.

“This intervention again goes to show that only the Scottish Conservatives are on the side of people and businesses when it comes to fair taxation.”