THE race to be the next Scottish Labour leader was shaping up to be a head-to-head between the party’s former deputy leader, Anas Sarwar, and the Holyrood newcomer and trade union stalwart, Richard Leonard.

While neither officially declared an intention to stand, sources close to both men were separately briefing reporters that the politicians were “sounding out their support”.

Leonard would be favoured by supporters of UK leader Jeremy Corbyn, while Sarwar is more likely to appeal to the party’s Blairite wing.

Attention focused on Leonard and Sarwar after two other senior Labour politicians ruled themselves out.

Alex Rowley, the party’s deputy under Kezia Dugdale and now interim leader, and Neil Findlay, who organised Corbyn’s two leadership campaigns in Scotland, both announced they would not stand.

“I can confirm I do not intend to run for leader of the Scottish Labour Party,” said Rowley.

“Kezia Dugdale has done fantastic work helping to rebuild the Labour Party in Scotland and whoever succeeds her has the chance to be First Minister of Scotland and make a transformative difference to people’s lives in Scotland. I look forward to working with the next leader to deliver a government for Scotland and the UK that will work for the many and not the few.”

Findlay released a statement also signalling his intention not to enter the race.

He said: “I will not be putting put my name forward in this election. I wish Kezia and those who may seek to succeed her the very best for the future.’’

No new leader is expected to be in position soon. Scottish Labour bosses will wait more than a week before discussing the contest with the party’s executive committee meeting on September 9 to consider the timetable and process.

Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of the trade union Unite, which backs Corbyn’s UK leadership, called for the contest to be delayed possibly until January.

“I don’t think we should be rushing into a contest or pushing this through over the next four or six weeks. For me it’s a matter of months. We are speaking more towards the end of the year or possibly January,” he told The National.

“We need to make sure that people have had ample opportunity to raise questions about policy — for instance would a new Scottish leader agree with policies coming from Jeremy Corbyn? The party needs to establish what members want the party to stand for.

“We need the best leader who can deliver on the policies members want and who can have a good relationship with leader of the UK party.”

Leonard is a former GMB trade union organiser who was elected to Holyrood in 2016 and currently holds the brief of Scottish shadow economy minister. Sarwar is the Scottish shadow health secretary and Glasgow MSP.

A source close to Leonard said the Central Scotland MSP was “likely” to put himself forward as a candidate over the coming weeks.

“Richard is talking to people and looking at his base. There is a theoretical possibility he’ll not do it but I think he’s going to go for it,” the insider said.

Lawyer Aamer Anwar noted on Twitter that Dugdale ally Jackie Baillie appeared to be meeting Sarwar. “The plot thickens as Jackie Baillie walked in2 United Cash & Carry 30mins ago, St Andrew’s Drive 2meet Anas Sarwar ,” he posted.Inverclyde council leader Stephen McCabe tweeted he would support Sarwar.