RICHARD Leonard has quit as Scottish Labour leader after three years in the role.

According to the Daily Record, the MSP said: “I have come to the conclusion it is in the best interests of the party that I step aside as leader of Scottish Labour with immediate effect.

“This was not an easy decision, but after three years I feel it is the right one for me and for the party."

READ MORE: Holyrood election: Flood of Labour and Tory voters considering SNP switch

The news comes after the latest Savanta ComRes poll, carried out for the Scotsman, showed Labour could move ahead into second place in Holyrood as Tory support slips.

Labour looked set to gain 18% in the constituency and list vote.

In an article, the MSP wrote that "both governments have mishandled its response" to the Covid-19 crisis, calling for 24/7 vaccine roll-out to protect the population as quickly as possible. 

However, he added: "I have thought long and hard over the Christmas period about what this crisis means, and the approach Scottish Labour takes to help tackle it.

READ MORE: IN FULL: Richard Leonard's resignation statement as Labour leader

"I have also considered what the speculation about my leadership does to our ability to get Labour’s message across. This has become a distraction."

He went on: "I want to thank all those people who placed their hopes in me, and who worked with me in good times and bad. This experience and the great people I have met will live with me forever. 

"I owe a huge debt in particular to all those party members who work tirelessly for the cause of Labour."

Politicians reacted to the news on social media. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wrote on Twitter: "Despite our political differences, I’ve always liked Richard Leonard. He is a decent guy and I wish him well for the future."

The National:

Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson wrote: "When I stepped down in August 2019, I discovered that political resignations are odd things, like reading obituaries when you are still alive.

"Whatever else is written about Richard, I have to say I always found him a thoroughly decent man and a committed campaigner."

READ MORE: Here are five of Richard Leonard's worst gaffes as he quits as Labour leader

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: "Richard Leonard is a good man who cares deeply about his politics and his party. There is no better evidence of that than his decision to step down from the top job."

SNP MP John Nicolson tweeted: "Scottish Labour doesn’t realise yet it’s not the messenger who is the problem. It’s the message."

Meanwhile, Labour MSP Neil Findlay called those who rallied against Leonard's leadership "traitors".

He wrote online: "Looks like those who have led a 3 year campaign of briefings to journalists, leaks of private conversations and the constant feeding of stories to the media to bring down a decent and honest man have succeeded. These flinching cowards and sneering traitors make me sick."

READ MORE: Labour try to oust Richard Leonard again, fearing election 'annihilation'

Whoever is next to lead Scottish Labour will be the eighth party chief in 14 years.

MSPs attempted to oust Leonard from his position last year, but a motion of no-confidence in him was withdrawn before a meeting of the party’s Scottish Executive Committee.

In September four of his MSPs publicly called on his to quit, saying the party faced a “disaster” if he stayed in the role.

The National:

James Kelly, Daniel Johnson, Jenny Marra and Mark Griffin spoke out against Leonard.

In December, insiders said Labour leader Keir Starmer privately believes that Leonard cannot stay on, with concerns about his own potential to become prime  minister if things do not improve in Scotland.

During his time as leader Leonard has overseen poor European Parliament and General Election results, while polling in the run-up to the Holyrood vote has been stagnant for some time.

Recently a series of senior Scottish Labour staffers quit their positions, with the Tories branding the resignations a "mass exodus" from the party.