RICHARD Leonard’s own local Labour branch is backing Anas Sarwar to become party leader, it has emerged in an embarrassing setback for the frontrunner in the race to become Scottish Labour leader.

Some 39 members of the Paisley Constituency Labour Party voted for Sarwar compared to 25 for Leonard who lost out as he was regarded as having a weaker position on the Union.

The town’s grassroots party members also gave their support to Sarwar for campaigning against plans to close the children’s ward at the local hospital. A decision on the matter is currently with the minister.

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“Anas is gaining momentum,” said Kevin Montgomery, an executive member of Paisley CLP and a councillor, who backs Sarwar.

The Glasgow MSP’s and party health spokesman’s leadership bid got off to a poor start last month after reports over his family’s business with claims it did not recognise trade unions nor pay the living wage to all of its workers.

But allies say Sarwar is making progress due to policies announced this week, including a commitment to support permanent membership of the European single market.

Montgomery said: “If you had asked me three weeks ago I would have said Richard was going to win, and while Richard is still the favourite, Anas’s campaign is picking up after what wasn’t a great start.”

He added Leonard, who has been a Central Scotland MSP since last year, “wasn’t that active” in a campaign to save ward 15 at the Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) despite living in Paisley.

He said: “You could say Richard has to focus his work in Central Scotland, but there was a threat over the children’s ward at the RAH about five or six years ago and he wasn’t really involved in that campaign either.”

Montgomery was also suspicious of Momentum, the grassroots movement which spearheaded Corbyn’s leadership bids and which supports Leonard.

“Anas is very clear on two things: Brexit and the constitutional question and I’m not sure Richard is clear on either,” he added. “At the CLP meeting the two things I think which swung it for Anas were his [pro-Union] constitutional stance and his involvement in the ward 15 campaign.”

A spokesman for Sarwar said: “We have been overwhelmed with the support we have received from members across the entire country. Many Scots have also been enthused to join the party by Anas’s positive campaign and by a belief he can be the next Labour First Minister.

“Anas is the only candidate who has put forward radical new policies, including a Scottish Child Tax Credit to lift 50,000 children out of poverty, using Holyrood’s powers to reverse Tory cuts to the sick and disabled, and a guaranteed job, training place or education for every school leaver. He has also set out a clear position on permanent UK membership of the European single market, which is a clear dividing line in this contest.”

A source close to Sarwar said: “Anas has always been the underdog in this contest and over the course of the campaign it has become clear he is also the anti-establishment candidate. Anas is determined to win as underdog.”

A spokesperson for Richard Leonard’s campaign said: “Richard Leonard is working hard, winning support from members and CLPs all across Scotland, with over half of those declaring their support for Richard; 34 CLPs supporting Richard and 15 for Anas.

“Of the Trade Unions and affiliated organisations, such as those representing health and education who have declared, all but one has nominated Richard Leonard as the person trusted with the credibility and consistency to lead Scottish Labour.”