ONE of Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard’s key allies has launched a thinly-veiled attacked on an MP colleague who said the party is full of “thugs and incompetents”.

In an email to party members, MSP Neil Findlay responded to Ian Murray’s remarks by saying he was “appalled” that members and staff had been described in “derogatory” terms.

However, a party source hit back: “This is a disgraceful attack on Ian and a blatant distortion of the facts in a desperate attempt to mask the leadership's failings.

"This intimidation has to stop and Richard Leonard needs to rein in those around him."

Leonard, a left-winger, won the leadership in 2017, but party MSPs believe he has still to make an impression with voters after a disappointing series of council by-election results.

He was also criticised after Labour withdrew financial support for former leader Kezia Dugdale - a party moderate - in her legal fight against a pro-independence blogger.

Against this backdrop, Murray, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South and a Dugdale ally, last week posted a message in a WhatsApp group used by parliamentarians.

His message, which was leaked to this newspaper, stated: “The key issue here is that some, who now run the Scottish Labour Party, spent a lot of her time as leader trying to get rid of her [Dugdale] and when they were successful they’ve spent the time after her leadership trying to force her out.

“Final straw was the leadership pulling her court case funding despite promises not to. Ultimately she won her case and the party lost £80,000 as they would’ve got their costs had they kept their promise.”

Murray added: “The party in Scotland is full of thugs and incompetents and this is just the latest in a sad tale that sees us on 14% [in the polls].”

The “thugs and incompetents” jibe angered left wingers and Leonard criticised Murray at last week’s group meeting of Labour MSPs. The leader’s remarks were then leaked to a daily newspaper.

In an email to party members in Edinburgh, which covers Murray’s home patch, Findlay, who represents the Lothians in Holyrood, wrote:

“You may be aware of negative media coverage of the Labour party over the last few days. Recent newspaper articles have reported comments made against staff and members of the Scottish Labour Party.

"I am appalled that loyal and committed members and staff have been described in derogatory terms. I want to say very clearly that I completely disassociate myself from anything that criticises our staff and members who work so hard for the Scottish Labour party.”

He added: “We will always be a party of democratic debate but that debate has to be honest and respectful and we have to stay united and disciplined.

“We certainly do not need stories and personal attacks on colleagues being leaked or private discussions and internal policy debates passed on to hostile newspapers. That serves no one other than our political opponents.”

Findlay also criticised internal leaks in an email to party MSPs last week.

He wrote: “This type of behaviour is completely and utterly unacceptable. This is damaging the party, our ability to win at a local and national level and indeed the chances of each of us winning seats in 2021. Our members would be rightly horrified if they knew of this behaviour.”

Scottish Labour declined to comment.