LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer says “of course” Richard Leonard can be the next first minister of Scotland, despite his party polling at just 13% ahead of the Holyrood election.

In an interview with STV Starmer was challenged on the latest Ipsos MORI survey, which also showed a very low approval rating for the Scottish Labour leader.

Leonard’s own MSPs recently called for him to step down, but a no-confidence vote in his leadership was ultimately withdrawn.

Starmer was asked: “What do you think this poll says about Richard Leonard? -25, Richard Leonard’s rating – and among Labour voters more of them thought the First Minister was doing a good job than Richard Leonard. This is the man who is leading Scottish Labour into this Holyrood election.”

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He replied: “Richard is leading Scottish Labour and I’m working with Richard, I was up in Scotland with Richard only a few weeks ago.”

Asked if Leonard can become Scotland’s next first minister Starmer said: “Of course”.

The Labour leader was then challenged to declare the “biggest asset” in Scottish Labour, but refused to do so insisting they are a “team”.

The reporter replied: “But you cant tell me it’s Richard Leonard. So does that not suggest that perhaps it’s time for you to call for him to go?”

Starmer rejected the suggestion.

The Labour leader also repeated his intent to go into the 2021 election opposing indyref2 – but was asked why he said in January that the question was for Scotland to answer.

Pushed on whether the SNP would have a mandate for a new referendum if they win a majority next year, he said he accepts there needs to be more power and devolution to Scotland but does “not think tearing up the United Kingdom is the way to do that”.

The interview comes after Ipsos MORI published damning polling results for Scottish Labour, putting them on track to secure just 13% in the constituency and list votes in May.

Meanwhile the research further revealed the SNP have a "very strong lead" in voting intention for both the list and constituency contests at 47% and 58% respectively.