Scottish Labour party chiefs have stepped in to block two senior women politicians from competing for the vacant deputy leader position on a joint ticket.
MSPs Jackie Baillie and Pauline McNeill had planned to run for the post on a job-share basis in an attempt to unify the divided party, and to focus on a serious plan of campaign for the Holyrood elections next year and local government elections in 2022.
However they have been told by the party's Scottish General Secretary they cannot run as a pair due to "procedural issues".
Ms Baillie, who is Labour's longest serving constituency MSP after first being elected in 1999, and who has ministerial experience, is believed to still be planning to run for the post, which became vacant after Lesley Laird resigned the position in the wake of losing her seat at the General Election.
The role would be number two to embattled leader Richard Leonard. Under his leadership Scottish Labour last month suffered its worst general election result since 1910, with the party losing six of its seven MPs, leaving just Ian Murray as its sole Westminster representative.
Mr Murray is himself standing in the UK Labour deputy leadership contest, while the Scottish vacancy is also being contested by Dundee councillor Michael Marra.
Ms Baillie, who represents Dumbarton, and Glasgow List MSP Pauline McNeill had agreed to run jointly. A party source said: "By not allowing the two to run jointly, the party has once again shot itself in the foot. What signal does it send to members and the public that this role can't be shared between two highly experienced women, who come from different wings of the party, and who want to work together in a show of unity? It's ridiculous to rule it out of hand."
Both Ms Baillie and Ms McNeill had previously said they wanted to send "a very clear message that we need to focus very clearly, not just on 2021, but rebuilding the Labour party, using the local government elections in 2022 as a platform.”
Jackie Baillie said: “I can’t sit on the side lines any longer and watch my Party decline. That’s why today I am announcing my candidacy as Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
“I am disappointed that my plans to unite with my friend and colleague, Pauline McNeill, have been rejected, but I look forward to working with her to rebuild our beloved party regardless of whether we share a candidacy or not.
“The future of our Party is hanging in the balance. We experienced two crushing defeats in 2019 and the Scottish electorate did not feel able to put their trust in Scottish Labour. As a result, the Party lost all but one MP. The result has meant that communities across Scotland have been subjected to another five years of Tory austerity, on top of the more than a decade of SNP cuts that they have already had to endure.
“Voters lost trust in our leadership and were confused by our manifesto. The inconsistent message that came from senior figures within the Labour Party on the two biggest issues facing Scottish voters – Scottish independence and Brexit – meant that the electorate did not know what the Party stood for and instead went elsewhere.
“If Scottish Labour does not accept responsibility for the result and take drastic steps to change, then the Party will become a residual force in Scottish politics. My aim is to unite the Party and bring members together from across the political spectrum, in order to rebuild the Party for the future.
“My membership cards say ‘By the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more than we achieve alone.’ This resonates with me now more than ever.”
The deputy role also allows its holder to automatically secure a a top spot on a regional List for the Holyrood election, however Jackie Baillie has said she's unconcerned about the list.
A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “Scottish Labour’s procedures clearly state that individual Scottish Labour councillors, MSPs and MPs will each be able to nominate themselves or one Scottish Labour councillor, MSP or MP for the position of deputy leader.”