DUMBARTON MSP Jackie Baillie has been elected to the ruling body of her party, in a blow to leader Richard Leonard.

Mary Fee, who sits on Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee as chair of its group of MSPs, was defeated in a vote after being challenged for the role by Ms Baillie, who is seen as a key figure on the party’s moderate wing, and was sacked as Scottish Labour’s economy spokeswoman last year as part of a chaotic reshuffle by Mr Leonard.

She challenged Ms Fee at the annual general meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Group, and won by 13 votes to 10.

It comes amid an ongoing power struggle in Labour between its moderate and left-wing factions. Ms Fee was seen as a political ally of left-wing leader Mr Leonard.

Left-wing MSP Neil Findlay said on Twitter: “I am absolutely disgusted that @MaryFeeMSP has been removed as Scottish Labour group chair.”

But one moderate Labour source told the Herald: "This was simply about capitalising on Jackie's expertise as a proven election winner with the Holyrood elections on the horizon and absolutely nothing to do with factionalism.

"It should have been a smooth transition, but the leadership shamefully insisted on making Mary stand even though they knew she wouldn't win, allowing Neil Findlay to pick another pointless internal fight."

Ms Baillie, MSP for Dumbarton, was removed from Labour’s front bench in October, amid reports she had been told of the move over the phone just five minutes before it was announced in a statement.

Former leadership candidate Anas Sarwar, who was also sacked in the reshuffle, claimed he learned he was to be replaced as health spokesman on Twitter while leading for the party in a Holyrood debate.

The latest move comes just weeks after Scottish Labour suffered a disastrous defeat in the European elections.

The party came fifth in Scotland, slumping from 26 to 9 per cent of the vote and losing both its MEPs, including the UK’s longest serving MEP, David Martin.

It was Labour’s worst result north of the border since 1910, and immediately led to calls for Mr Leonard to consider his position.

He has since committed Scottish Labour to backing a second EU referendum in all circumstances, and regardless of the party’s position down south. Critics have branded the move “too little, too late”.

Scottish Labour declined to comment on Ms Baillie's appointment, insisting it was an "internal meeting".