SCOTTISH Labour boss Richard Leonard has distanced himself from John McDonnell’s support for Tory tax cuts for higher earners, in a bid to prove he’s no “branch office” manager.

In Monday’s Budget Chancellor Philip Hammond brought forward a manifesto pledge to increase the higher rate tax threshold in England and Wales to £50,000, by a year.

According to analysis by the Resolution Foundation, that change will see the richest 10% of households gain the most – around £410 a year.

In a move that surprised many of his own MPs, McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said a Labour government would not reverse the cut.

“We’re not going to take funding away from people. Some of these are middle-earners, head teachers and people like that, who’ve had a rough time of it,” he said.

The Scottish Labour leader had been under pressure to say if he supported McDonnell or if he believes, as he did last year, in increasing the higher rate of Scottish income tax.

Yesterday in a statement Leonard tried to clarify his position.

“We want to see a Scottish Budget where the richest pay their fair share to properly fund public services and tackle inequality,” he said.

“The Tories have clearly broken their promise to end austerity.

“Income tax is devolved and raising the higher rate threshold should not be a priority for the Scottish Government, we need a distinctive tax that meets the needs of the people of Scotland.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was disdainful: “‘Do as we say, not as we do’ says Scottish Labour ... yet again,” she tweeted.

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said Leonard’s comments were “astonishing”.

“The Marxist McDonnell is not left-wing enough for @scottishlabour. SNP & Labour now in race to hammer Scottish families with tax rises,” he added.

But a party insider told the Herald: “After a year of blindly following Corbyn, this is finally an opportunity to prove that Scottish Labour is not a branch office.”

Currently, Scots pay income tax at 41p in the pound between £43,340 and £150,000, while in England the rate is 40p and the threshold is £46,350.

From April, under Hammond’s planned changes, the threshold in England will rise to £50,000.

According to the Fraser of Allander Institute, if SNP Finance Secretary Derek Mackay was to increase the Scottish higher rate tax rate by inflation in 2019-20, the gap between the higher rate thresholds would mean that someone earning £50,000 in Scotland would pay £1,100 more in income tax than those in the rest of the UK.

The Scottish Tories want the Scottish Government to bring Scotland’s tax rates in line with those south of the border. Mackay has indicated that he won’t.

The SNP minister said his budget on December 12 will “choose a fair, more progressive path” than Hammond.

Analysis by the Resolution Foundation, published on Tuesday, revealed that the tax cuts, which will cost the Treasury almost £2.8bn, would overwhelmingly benefit wealthier households, with almost half the giveaway going to top earners.

Labour MP David Lammy said his party had made the wrong choice in not opposing the rate change.

“These tax cuts leave a bitter taste in my mouth because they help high earners in the City far more than my constituents in Tottenham, some of whom this winter will be facing the choice between eating and heating,” he said.

“I believe it is a mistake for the Labour Party to support this policy as it will lead to more inequality, not less.”

McDonnell was initially steadfast in his support for the cuts, but yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions Jeremy Corbyn appeared to publicly disagree with his right hand man.

The Labour leader accused May and Hammond of choosing “not to end the benefit freeze for 10 million households” but instead “bringing forward a tax cut for higher earners”.

The Prime Minister seized on the remark.

She replied: “On Monday, he said that cutting taxes for 32 million people was frittering money away on ‘ideological tax cuts’.

“Yesterday, the shadow Chancellor said that Labour would support the tax cuts.

“On Monday, the leader of the opposition, talked about tax cuts for the rich. Yesterday, his shadow Chancellor said what we have always known, which is that the tax cuts were for ‘middle earners, head teachers and people like that.’”

Corbyn’s spokesman later said Hammond’s cut was wrong but that Labour could not reverse it as they had guaranteed no increase in income tax contributions for 95% of earners in their last manifesto.