SCOTTISH Labour’s bungling caretaker leader Alex Rowley has inadvertently kicked off a civil war in the party, with MSPs publicly and personally attacking each other.

At one point Richard Leonard’s press officer accused Jackie Baillie of talking “pish”.

It all started when, in a recording, obtained by The Sun, Rowley can be heard speaking candidly to an American student while standing in queue for an event at Labour conference in Brighton, about how the left wing of the party were trying to force Kezia Dugdale out.

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The gaffe-prone Fifer tells his new acquaintance, “although I’m neutral in the leadership I also believe that Richard Leonard has everything that we need to win in 2021. I really do.”

On timing, he says the left-wing of the party were caught off-guard by Dugdale’s surprise resignation: “We didn’t expect this to happen, and we certainly weren’t putting any pressure on it.”

But, he later adds, they did think it “would happen before 2021” and there had been “private discussions”.

“We, privately, we didn’t believe Kezia would be there in 2021. But not right now. It came as a surprise to us,” he said.

Rowley says he believes Leonard has a “solid grounding in the Labour party”.

The interim leader then goes on to say he believes Leonard’s rival, Anas Sarwar, if elected, would last “maybe four years or whatever.

“Richard will demonstrate over time, just like Jeremy has, that he has got the intellectual capacity to be the leader.”

In a furious statement sent to press in response to the tape, Baillie, a prominent Sarwar supporter said Leonard needed to clarify if he had played any role in the plot against Dugdale.

“Alex Rowley’s hypocrisy is incredibly disappointing. But what is most concerning is the revelations about a plot against Kezia Dugdale,” she said.

“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.

“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.”

In response to a request for comment from the Telegraph, Leonard’s press officer, Stephen Low sent an email with the subject “coment [sic] on latest jackie baillie pish”.

“If there were any attempts to undermine Kezia — they did not involve Richard and he knew nothing of them. Any statements that he did are completely false.”

Asked about the row on the BBC’s Five Live, Dugdale said: “I’m sure lots of people will say, wow, that speaks to a lot of internal problems in the Labour party. They’d be right.”

As the row exploded, Jeremy Corbyn was onstage in Brighton talking about how Labour had never been more united, and how they were now the “party of unity”.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Alex was having what he believed to be a private conversation with a student and a political activist. He has not and will not publicly back a candidate.”

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The SNP MSP Sandra White said Rowley’s authority as acting boss had been “completely undermined”.

She added: “With the Labour leadership campaign barely out of the starting blocks both factions are fighting like cats in a sack — it’s astonishing.”

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “This is what the Labour party do best, incompetence coupled with backstabbing.”