A senior Scottish Labour figure has said he found out about Kezia Dugdale’s intention to quit as party leader 15 minutes before it was announced.
Interim leader Alex Rowley, who was deputy leader at the time, said “very few people” knew that the announcement was coming.
Ms Dugdale revealed at the end of August that she was stepping down from the job with immediate effect after two years at the helm.
READ MORE: Inside story of Kezia Dugdale’s resignation
Her sudden departure from the role has triggered a leadership contest between Anas Sarwar, Labour’s health spokesman at Holyrood, and left wing MSP Richard Leonard, with the result to be announced in mid-November.
Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Mr Rowley was asked whether he had tried to talk Ms Dugdale out of resigning.
He replied: “No, I didn’t know that Kezia Dugdale was going to resign up until perhaps 10, 15 minutes before she announced it. So no, I didn’t.”
Pressed on the issue, he said he thought very few people knew, adding: “That was Kezia’s decision, it was a decision that she wanted to make.
“We now need to move forward. We owe Kez a debt of gratitude for all the work that she’s done over these last two years but we want to move forward.”
Mr Rowley would not be drawn on the leadership race, insisting it was for “members to decide”.
He appeared on the show 24 hours after Mr Sarwar announced he has relinquished all his shares in a family firm.
Mr Sarwar was criticised following reports that United Wholesale (Scotland), in which he had a stake, fails to pay all its workers the “real” living wage.
Questions were also raised over union representation at the business.
He announced he will relinquish the shares to demonstrate his “commitment to public service” and focus the campaign debate fully on policy issues.
Asked whether that was enough for Mr Sarwar to put the “problems” behind him, Mr Rowley said: “You wouldn’t expect me to comment on the candidates and their personal affairs.
“At the end of the day there are two candidates standing. I’m like every other Labour party member in Scotland, I have one vote.
“It’s for members to decide and members will decide and we’ll have a new leader elected on the 18th of November.”
Nicola Sturgeon last week launched an attack on Mr Sarwar during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
As Mr Rowley accused Ms Sturgeon’s government of siding with “the millionaires rather than the millions” on tax decisions, SNP MSPs in Holyrood pointed at Mr Sarwar.
Ms Sturgeon claimed there was a “gulf as wide as the Clyde” between what Mr Sarwar says and his actions.
Asked whether his comments in the chamber paved the way for Ms Sturgeon to “have a go” at one of the candidates in the leadership election, Mr Rowley told the programme: “No, I’m going to continue to make the case for the many not the few.
“I’m going to continue to make the case that we need to address the unacceptable levels of poverty that exist in Scotland.”