A LABOUR MSP has pointed the finger at “flinching cowards and sneering traitors” within his party – blaming them for Richard Leonard's shock resignation.

Mr Leonard announced he is quitting as Scottish Labour leader with immediate effect – suggesting speculation and an attempt by a handful of MSPs to oust him last year had become “a distraction”.

In September last year, four Labour MSPs publicly called on Mr Leonard to quit amid frustration with his leadership – claiming he had failed to listen to their concerns and fearing they would lose their jobs at May’s election.

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But the attempted coup ended in embarrassment after a failure to win enough support from fellow MSPs and confusion over whether MSPs have the authority to remove their leader.

Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for the Lothians and an ally of Mr Leonard has blamed the group of MSPs for Mr Leonard’s decision.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “Looks like those who have led a three-year campaign of briefings to journalists, leaks of private conversations and the constant feeding of stories to the media to bring down a decent and honest man have succeeded.

“These flinching cowards and sneering traitors make me sick.”

Mr Findlay quoted from Labour's anthem, The Red Flag - which contains the lyric 'Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer'.

Anas Sarwar, who was defeated by Mr Leonard for the Labour leadership in 2017 has also paid thinks to his former rival's contribution.

He said: "Richard Leonard has led our party through one of the most difficult times in our history.

"He is Labour to his core, and we are all grateful for his service.

"I know he will continue to fight for a fairer, more just and more equal society today, tomorrow and long into the future."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has wished Mr Leonard well following his decision.

She said: “Despite our political differences, I’ve always liked Richard Leonard. “He is a decent guy and I wish him well for the future.”

Former Scottish Conservative leader and current Holyrood leader of the party, Ruth Davidson said: “Whatever else is written about Richard, I have to say I always found him a thoroughly decent man and a committed campaigner.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, added: ”Richard Leonard is a good man who cares deeply about his politics and his party.

“There is no better evidence of that than his decision to step down from the top job.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie MSP said: “I wish Richard Leonard all the best for the future.

“Scottish Labour could now field an entire football team of former leaders and acting leaders. The party has spent almost the entire devolution era fighting among itself, all the while letting down Scotland’s working class communities.

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“Many Labour members have understandably become utterly disillusioned with their party’s constant infighting. I’d urge those members to take a look at our plans for a Green New Deal for Workers, for public ownership and for tenants rights and consider joining us as we fight to build a better Scotland.”

The STUC has also paid thanks to Mr Leonard.

In a statement on Twitter, the organisation said: “Throughout his period as Scottish Labour leader he has been a friend to Scottish trade unions.

“Whether outside or inside the Parliament he has been a champion for workers. We wish him all the best for the future.”