Alex Rowley has been appointed interim Scottish Labour leader after Kezia Dugdale’s bombshell resignation.
Rowley, formerly deputy leader, takes on the role straightaway after Dugdale resigned on Tuesday, but party insiders are calling for a full contest, not “a coronation”.
Former Labour leader Harriet Harman has also called for the position to be filled by a woman, tweeting: “Thank you for all you’ve done and for being a true @UKLabour sister.
“PS, please can we have another woman and not revert back to a man.”
Another well-placed Labour source went further and said Dugdale was “forced out by men”.
They said: “Kez is the third Scottish Labour leader to be forced out by men, it is sadder than sad.
“Don’t forget Labour is supposed to be the party of workers but it is shafting its own staff at every turn.”
The claims follow months of briefings about Dugdale’s leadership from left-wing MSPs and backers of the Momentum sister group Campaign for Socialism.
A veteran Labour fixer under Gordon Brown, Rowley threw his weight behind Jeremy Corbyn while Dugdale backed his rival Owen Smith for the UK leadership
Party chiefs will meet on Saturday September 9 to thrash out a timetable for the leadership race, but Unite, the most powerful union in the UK, has issued a statement insisting there is “no need to rush” now Rowley is in place.
And, in a sign the leadership race north of the border could turn into an acrimonious affair, party insiders have claimed Rowley, whose daughter Danielle Rowley was elected as an MP in Midlothian in June, hoped to secure the leadership without a full contest.
One told HuffPost UK: “Unite want Rowley to be appointed without the trouble of a full contest, it would just be a coronation.
“I think the race will come down to three but whoever wants the job needs to put their cards on the table and say that they actually want it.
“Kez was always open about the fact that she wanted the job when [Jim] Murphy stood down.
“The terrain hasn’t really changed in Scotland, although the general election proved there is some appetite for Corbyn’s politics.
“This is a difficult job for anyone to take on and I don’t know who would really want it.”
Separately, long-time Jeremy Corbyn ally Neil Findlay ruled himself out as a candidate, despite many supporters pinning their hopes on him.
The MSP said: ”I will not be putting my name forward in this election.
“I wish Kezia and those who may seek to succeed her the very best for the future and I look forward to Parliament returning next week so I can work with my colleagues to hold the SNP to account for their appalling mishandling of our public services, expose the Tories for their shambolic handling of the Brexit process and work towards returning Labour governments at Holyrood and Westminster that works for the many not the few.”
Former Glasgow MP and current Holyrood health spokesman Anas Sarwar has been tipped to run, as has Richard Leonard, a long-time left-winger and union favourite.
Equalities spokeswoman Monica Lennon may also be considering a bid for the top job amid criticism the race could become male dominated.
A Labour source told HuffPost that Sarwar attempted to hire an organiser earlier in the week, a sure sign the Glaswegian plans to be a candidate.
In a statement issued almost as soon as Rowley’s new role was announced, Unite’s Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “The party is now rebuilding in Scotland and is rightly seen as the opponent of the mindless austerity of the Conservative party.
“We urge the party to reflect upon this turn in fortunes and consolidate, not to act in undue haste on any succession plan.
“There is no need to rush to a leadership election. Under Alex Rowley’s interim leadership we are confident that the voices of Scotland’s working people will be heard loud and clear at Holyrood.
“This is not about the next four weeks. It is about the next four years. This is an opportunity to reflect upon what the Scottish Labour Party stands for. Let’s seize it and build for the future.”
Rowley said in a statement: “Under the leadership of Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour Party is stronger and more united than it was when she took the job, we have a platform on which to build. On behalf of the party, I wish her well.”
General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party Brian Roy added: “Over the coming weeks the Scottish Executive Committee of the Labour Party will decide the process and timetable for a leadership election.”
Some questions remain over Dugdale’s reasons for standing down, with some claiming her lack of support for Corbyn had made her position untenable.
One senior Labour source told HuffPost UK: “My guess is the constant attacks and backbiting by the left who wish to “unite” the party was the last straw.
“However, her resignation letter is probably the way that she feels.
“Who’s next? Anas Sarwar or Neil Findlay I would guess and whoever Jeremy Corbyn wants will get it.”
In the wake of poor council election results and Labour being relegated to third place in Holyrood the year before, many viewed Dugdale standing down as inevitable.
But despite shedding office staff, after signs of a revival at the general election, many believed she would stay on to fight the 2021 Scottish elections.
She told the BBC that, after overseeing a mini-revival she wanted to “pass the baton on” to new blood.
Dugdale’s period in charge has coincided with some turbulence in her private life, however.
Aikman died, aged 31, of motor neurone disease in February. He had raised more than £500,000 for research into the condition.
Dugdale said: “In terms of personal relationships, the death of my dear friend Gordon Aikman has had much more impact on making me evaluate what I want from life.”
The 36-year-old Lothians MSP announced her engagement to long-term partner Louise Riddell last summer but the couple split after nine years last Christmas.
Last month, Dugdale announced she was in a new relationship with the SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth. But Dugdale said the relationship has had “absolutely zero” impact on her decision to quit.
She also flatly denied that her position on Corbyn’s leadership had no bearing on the move.
The death of her close friend Gordon Aikman had made her rethink her priorities, she said.