CRITICS of Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard have written to party bosses to clarify rules as they seek to launch a leadership challenge against him. 

MSPs James Kelly and Daniel Johnson said they have the five signatures necessary to launch a contest, but figures close to Mr Leonard have disputed that such a mechanism to remove him exists.

Four MSPs – Mr Kelly, Mr Johnson, Jenny Marra and Mark Griffin – have publicly called for Mr Leonard to step down. 

They fear the party is on course for a crushing defeat at the Holyrood election next year and have pointed to its poor performance in recent elections.

In a letter to Scottish Labour general secretary Michael Sharpe, Mr Kelly and Mr Johnson wrote: “We are writing to you as we feel there is an urgent need to clarify the rules of the Labour Party. 

"In particular with regard to the procedure to challenge a sitting leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

“As you may be aware, in recent days it has been briefed to the media and stated publicly by Richard Leonard that there is no mechanism by which the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party can be formally challenged. 

"However, we believe this is an inaccurate interpretation of the rules. 

"The precedent has been set by the Labour Party that a leader can be challenged with the backing of 20 per cent of the parliamentary party and our understanding of the Scottish Labour Party and Labour Party Rule books confirm that this is the case.

They added: “On this basis, our understanding is that five signatures is sufficient to initiate a challenge. 

"We have five members willing to sign such a challenge. We therefore request clarification on this matter at the earliest opportunity.”

They continued: “We reject the implication that, once installed, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party enjoys indefinite tenure. 

"This is not democratic and goes against our party’s fundamental principles and values. 

"This action has been driven by sorrow, not anger, after Richard Leonard has failed to command the support of MSPs, Labour activists and most importantly, the Scottish people.

“We are pleading with Richard, once again, to put our party first and to stand aside so that we can start the urgent work to regain the trust of the Scottish people ahead of next year’s election under a new leader.”

Figures close to Mr Leonard argue the 20% rule applies only to the UK party. 

But Mr Johnson told The Herald it has been the understanding "for years" that it also applies to the Scottish party.

He said the sooner the issue is resolved the better.

Mr Leonard said: "Those same people who last week called on me to step down have yet again underestimated my resolve and the mandate I received from Scottish Labour Party members just under three years ago.

"Scottish Labour Party members know only too well just what a dereliction of duty it would be for the party to turn in on itself at the very point when the country is facing an unprecedented crisis."