SIR Keir Starmer has appeared to sideline Richard Leonard ahead of his first visit to Scotland as UK Labour leader, admitting his party has “a mountain to climb” at Holyrood. 

In a newspaper article teeing up his arrival in Edinburgh today, Sir Keir failed to name the Scottish leader and stressed that he was in charge. 

He also said he was confident of Labour’s “platform” in Scotland, rather than its leadership. 

The SNP said it showed how "anonymous" Mr Leonard was. 

Sir Keir wrote in the Scotsman: “The Labour Party I lead, with Scottish Labour, will speak up for the people of Scotland, whether that is in Holyrood or in Westminster.”

“Scotland is deeply important to me and to the Labour party. 

“I am in no doubt that we have a mountain to climb, both at the next UK general election and next year’s Holyrood elections. 

“But I am confident of the platform Labour will enter those elections on. 

“Our priority will not be another divisive independence referendum – it will be properly funding our National Health Service, protecting jobs and investing in our children’s future. 

“Those are the priorities of the Scottish people, and they are my priorities as leader of the Labour party.”

The conspicuous omission of Mr Leonard, a left-wing legacy of the Jeremy Corbyn era, comes just days after the Scottish leader narrowly survived a mutiny led by four of his own MSPs.

James Kelly, Jenny Marra, Daniel Johnson and Mark Griffin told Mr Leonard they has lost confidence in him and urged him to stand down to avoid an electoral “catastrophe” in May.

Scottish Labour is currently on 14 per cent in the polls, which indicate it could lose six of the 24 seats in won in 2016. 

Under Mr Leonard, Scottish Labour lost both of its MEPs and six of its seven MPs in elections last year.

However Mr Leonard refused to go, arguing he has a mandate from the Labour members who chose him as leader over MSP Anas Sarwar in November 2017.

Matters came to a head on Saturday, when a no confidence motion was tabled at Scottish Labour’s ruling Scottish Executive Committee.

It was withdrawn on the day when it became clear it would narrowly fail.

Sir Keir’s office said during the crisis that the UK and Scottish leaders got on well and were focused on the Holyrood election, but did not offer him active support.

UK Labour are fully alert to Mr Leonard’s shortcomings, but reluctant to interfere in case it stokes accusations that Scottish Labour is being treated like a branch office.

In his Scotsman article, Sir Keir said: “The coronavirus crisis means that I have had to wait until today to make my first visit to Scotland as Labour leader. I am here with a very clear message: Labour ’s history and values run proudly through Scotland – and always will.

“Coronavirus has lifted a curtain on many of the inequalities and fragilities which still exist within Scotland. When we emerge – which we will – we need to have learnt the lessons. There can be no going back to the status quo. We need to build a better future.

It is my responsibility to lead the charge for that future. To win the trust of people in Scotland that the Labour Party can offer the change we need.” 

He said the Tories were “still banging on about Brexit and the SNP, by their own admission, are still prioritising independence”.  

He said: “Labour in government created devolution so that decisions could be made closer to people. But, for that, we need governments to work in partnership. 

“As we have seen with the recent blame-game over testing in Scotland, if governments spend their time fighting each other there is only one loser – the Scottish people.

“So I say to both governments: get a grip, focus on the job in hand and work together to defeat this virus. I continue to believe that a four-nations approach is the best response to the health and economic crises we face. At this crucial time, we cannot have a situation where the four nations of the UK are pulling in different directions.” 

An SNP spokesperson said: "Labour's Scottish branch office manager is so anonymous his boss in London doesn't appear to remember his name.

"Keir Starmer can make as many visits to Scotland as he likes to rally his dwindling band of supporters but until he publicly supports Scotland's democratic right to choose our own future his party will continue its slide into irrelevance."