A major row broke out at the top of the party over claims that allies of the left wing leadership candidate Richard Leonard had secretly plotted to undermine Kezia Dugdale, who resigned unexpectedly last month.
The allegations emerged after Alex Rowley, the party’s interim leader, was recorded privately admitting that he is backing Mr Leonard for the top job despite publicly insisting he was neutral.
In a conversation with a student at the Labour conference in Brighton, Mr Rowley also suggested that those on the left wing of the party believed that Ms Dugdale could resign before 2021 and had discussed how they would replace her.
“For some time now I’ve thought he [Mr Leonard] was the best candidate. And most people within the left in Scotland I think thought likewise,” he said in the recording obtained by the Sun newspaper.
The revelation prompted accusations of a “plot” from Jackie Baillie, a Scottish Labour MSP and key ally of Anas Sarwar, who is running against Mr Leonard for the leadership.
“Kez was elected with a huge majority and it will infuriate members to learn that some MSPs were working behind the scenes to undermine her and replace her with Richard Leonard,” she said.
“Richard must urgently answer questions about his role in this plot. This behaviour by the party establishment is a complete betrayal of the membership and every value we hold dear.”
Neil Findlay MSP, who is supporting Mr Leonard, described Ms Baillie’s statement as “barrel scraping desperation”, while a spokesman for Mr Leonard’s campaign said any suggestion he had been involved in such a plot was “completely false”.
He added: “If there were any attempts to undermine Kezia, they did not involve Richard and he knew nothing of them.”
However, the email containing the statement was emailed to one journalist with the subject heading: “Comment on latest Jackie Baillie pish”.
Ms Dugdale, who had a rocky relationship with her deputy Mr Rowley when she was leader, also confirmed she had informed him she was resigning only 10 minutes before it was announced.
“I’m sure there’s lots of people thinking ‘Wow, that speaks to a lot of internal problems in the Labour party’, and they would be right,” she told the BBC.
The damaging row broke out as Mr Corbyn took to the stage in Brighton to deliver his speech to the party’s conference, in which he thanked Ms Dugdale and Mr Rowley.
SNP MP Stewart Hosie said the Labour leader’s message of unity had been “blown apart by the open civil war now engulfing Scottish Labour”.
“Their leadership candidates and supporters in Scotland are tearing themselves apart in the most bitter bout of infighting the party has seen in many years,” he added.