Ed Miliband tried to persuade Gordon Brown to stand for the leadership of Scottish Labour, according to a senior party source.
Mr Miliband sent a member of the Shadow Cabinet to ask the former prime minister to stand before nominations closed last week, according to the source. "Gordon showed good sense in turning it down," the source added.
The move will be seen as evidence of Mr Miliband's concern that Jim Murphy, a Blairite who stood down as Labour's international development spokesperson this month, will become the party's leader north of the border.
Mr Murphy's popularity, which soared during the Scottish referendum campaign as he addressed crowds while standing on upturned Irn-Bru crates, is such that only Mr Brown was thought capable of beating him. Mr Miliband is thought to get on badly with Mr Murphy, whom he demoted from defence spokesperson last year as Mr Miliband's aides branded him "disloyal".
There are three candidates in the running to succeed Johann Lamont, who quit last month after complaining that Westminster MPs and senior officials treated the party's Scottish operations as a "branch office".
The second favourite, MSP Neil Findlay, formally launched his campaign at a miners' welfare club in Fauldhouse, West Lothian, yesterday. The left-winger, who is heavily backed by Labour-affiliated unions including Unite and the GMB, said he was not a "machine politician" and would "end poverty in Scotland".
There has been speculation that Jon Trickett, the MP for Hemsworth in West Yorkshire who was made a senior adviser to Mr Miliband last week, was helping Mr Findlay's campaign. However, a source close to Mr Trickett insisted that he had "never even met" Mr Findlay.
However, many of Labour's Scottish MPs are privately grumbling that a victory for Mr Findlay or the third candidate, MSP Sarah Boyack, could cost them their seats.
They have pinned their hopes of remaining MPs after May's general election on the popularity of Mr Murphy. Recent polls have suggested that Labour could lose between 20 and 40 of the 41 seats it won last time north of the border to the SNP.
"This is a classic fork-in-the-road situation," a prominent Scottish MP said last night. "Findlay and Boyack are not known by the public, so, if we go down that route, they will have to establish themselves, which is not a good thing so close to the election. Findlay is too left-wing and too associated with the unions, while Murphy is known by the press, can hit the ground running and people like him."
Many senior Labour Party members are also hoping that Kezia Dugdale wins the deputy leadership contest. She is the party's education spokeswoman in the Scottish Parliament and is up against Katy Clark, the North Ayrshire and Arran MP.
It is understood that recent internal polling showed that Ms Dugdale, 33, was the most recognised Scottish female Labour politician, well ahead of even Ms Lamont. If Mr Murphy and Ms Dugdale both triumphed, she would, in effect, lead Labour in Holyrood until the former Shadow Cabinet member could find and win a seat in the Scottish Parliament.Reuse content