SCOTLAND’S biggest trade union has re-affirmed its support for Jeremy Corbyn’s continued leadership of the Labour Party.

As 640,000 ballot papers are sent out for the poll, Unite has urged its 150,000 members in Scotland to stick with the man who became leader thanks to “tens of thousands of ordinary people who want fairness, democracy and equality at the heart of our politics”.

The move comes after Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale publicly backed Owen Smith to replace Corbyn.

Dugdale said the UK Labour leadership should not just be about who has the greatest support of party members, but should be decided on the basis of who is best placed to be Prime Minister.

Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said the union had, from the outset, appealed for party unity and opposed the divisions created by the challenge to Corbyn’s leadership despite his “overwhelming” mandate less than a year ago.

“However, when it became clear that a potentially damaging and unnecessary Labour leadership election was proceeding, Unite’s policy conference, our supreme policy making body of rank-and-file representatives, decided by an overwhelming majority to support Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party,” said Rafferty.

“On the day that ballot papers are beginning to be issued, we would ask all Unite members in Scotland with a vote to support his campaign.

“Working people in Scotland are struggling. The UK is on course to becoming the most unequal country in the developed world – and in Scotland the wealthiest households are 273 times richer than the poorest households.

“Unite members are at the sharp end of that fundamental unfairness, with too many in insecure work, on low pay, and facing austerity cuts that punish the poorest for the failings of a casino economy run in the interests of a rich elite.

“Jeremy Corbyn became leader thanks to a movement of tens of thousands of ordinary people who want fairness, democracy and equality at the heart of our politics, and who have made the Labour Party the largest political party in western Europe.”

He added: “We are particularly encouraged by the fact that support for Jeremy in Scotland is growing. He was in second place last year in terms of constituency Labour Party (CLP) nominations in Scotland but he is now firmly out in front, with the majority of CLPs who have made a nomination supporting Jeremy, including nominations from many CLPs who backed other candidates in the previous election.

“We are also encouraged by his support for the radical policies in the Scottish Labour Party manifesto and his continued emphasis on the need for strong workers’ rights, including his latest call for strong collective bargaining.”

Another major union, Unison, earlier this month confirmed its support for Corbyn. General secretary Dave Prentis said: “Jeremy Corbyn retains the backing of a majority of Unison’s Labour supporting members. That’s why the committee supported his nomination again.

“However, a significant minority backed Owen Smith. Their views will always be respected in our union – that’s our proud tradition.”

Senior Labour figures yesterday appeared reluctant to engage in any discussion about the deepening divisions in the party.

Diane Abbot did not respond to our phone or email requests, Scottish deputy leader Alex Rowley was said to be travelling to meetings, and Shadow Welsh Secretary Paul Flynn would only say: “I’m all for peace and harmony in the party. I shall spring to life and try to stick the party together after the result is announced.

Both Corbyn and Smith are visiting Scotland this week, but Dugdale said she has no plans to meet either of them.

Earlier, she told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that the party was in a “very difficult” position.

She said: “I think it is ugly, I think it is a real turn-off to people across the country to see a party ripping itself apart and it’s my job to do what I can to get the party back on the front foot, to get its act together.”

She “disagreed entirely” that her position would become untenable if Corbyn won the leadership and added that she was “absolutely fine” with Rowley as her deputy, despite his backing for Corbyn and comments that he would not oppose a second referendum on Scottish independence.