Labour leadership rivals Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar have called for end to the open warfare which has marked the race to replace Kezia Dugdale in recent days with an appeal for “tolerance and respect”.
Mr Leonard, the left-wing hopeful, said there is “no place for the kind of language” which came to light on Wednesday as the rival camps turned on each other. Mr Sarwar insisted he only wants to “fight” with rival parties.
It came as interim leader Alex Rowley rejected calls to quit over the emergence of private recording of comments he made at this week’s party conference. In it, he appears to indicate he was involved in discussions about Ms Dugdale’s future as leader before she quit and was backing Mr Leonard for the leadership - despite a pledge to stay neutral.
This prompted Jackie Baillie, a prominent supporter of Mr Sarwar, to accused deputy Mr Rowley of “plotting” against Ms Dugdale. Ms Baillie’s claims were in turn branded “pish” in a statement issued by Mr Leonard’s camp.
The intervention of both candidates came after Nicola Sturgeon launched a scathing attack on the party’s problems at First Ministers Questions yesterday.
Mr Leonard said: “We must conduct the campaign in a spirit of comradeship, however strongly and legitimately people differ on the political paths we might take.
“There is no place in this campaign for making unfounded allegations about colleagues and fellow party members, for any abuse including online, or for that matter using language that lowers the tone.
“I make clear to my supporters that we are conducting this campaign as the proponents of hope and change, and not the old way of doing things, and that starts with my campaign itself – where there is no place for the kind of language we saw yesterday.”
Mr Sarwar also indicated that activists should focus their fire on political opponents.
“The only people I’m interested in fighting with is Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP and the Tories,” he said.
Former Labour MP Gemma Doyle yesterday called on Mr Rowley to consider his position over the emergence of the conference recording.
Asked at Holyrood whether he planned to stay on as deputy leader, Mr Rowley said: “I intend to do that.”
He added: “I’m really disappointed that what I thought was a private conversation was tape recorded.
“I believed that to be a private conversation and the point is that I now need to move on with what I’m doing.
“We have a party that wants to unite, we have a membership that wants us to get on with the job in hand and that’s what we all need to do. We need to pull together, have this election and move forward.”
Ms Dugdale, who shocked colleagues with her resignation last month, said this week the party in Scotland had “internal problems” to deal with.
During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood, Mr Leonard pressed Ms Sturgeon on the future of the free bus pass for over 60s.
Ms Sturgeon replied: “I know Scottish Labour have somewhat lost touch with reality but is Richard Leonard really suggesting that we should have a scheme in place that is not sustainable for the long term?
“It’s because we value the bus pass scheme, because we want to see it continue to benefit people right across Scotland that we’re having this consultation to make sure it is sustainable for the long term and people long into the future can continue the benefits of it.
“And that really is the difference between the SNP and Labour. We fight for Scotland, Scottish Labour just fights amongst themselves.
“I mean yesterday, it was incredible yesterday wasn’t it, we had Richard Leonard accused by Jackie Baillie of betraying every value that Labour holds dear. And then we had Richard Leonard saying this was just the latest Jackie Baillie...”
After being interrupted by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, she continued: “I can’t actually say it presiding officer.
“Let’s just say it’s a description that covers much of what Jackie Baillie says in this chamber.”