THE apparently lenient treatment of a left-wing MP who used racist and homophobic language at a Burns Supper has split Scottish Labour’s front bench.

Health spokesman Anas Sarwar snubbed an instruction to sit next to party leader Richard Leonard at First Minister’s Questions yesterday, claiming his selection had been “tokenistic”.

Mr Sarwar later publicly criticised the party’s limited action against Hugh Gaffney, the MP for Coatbridge, Chryston & Bellshill, who has been a close friend of Mr Leonard for 20 years.

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The SNP’s Humza Yousaf urged Mr Leonard to apologise for a “brazen display of tokenism”.

The Herald revealed this week how Mr Gaffney had joked about Robert Burns not being “bent” and referred to a Chinese meal as a “chinky” at a Labour student event on Saturday. He later apologised and agreed to undergo diversity and equality training.

However the 54-year-old former postal worker and North Lanarkshire Councillor was merely reprimanded by the party, rather than suspended.

In last year’s Scottish leadership contest, Mr Gaffney backed Mr Leonard against Mr Sarwar.

Mr Leonard said he was delighted by the endorsement, while Mr Gaffney said: “Richard and I have been friends for over two decades and I know him to be a man of honour, decency and hard work. Together we founded the Keir Hardie Society in 2010.

“And with the values championed by the late, great Lanarkshire man in mind, we should ask: what would Keir Hardie say? It’s simple – Vote for Richard Leonard.”

With the row looming over FMQs, Labour MSPs were told via a WhatsApp message on Thursday morning that Mr Sarwar would be in a prime front row seat next to Mr Leonard.

However sources said Mr Sarwar bridled at the instruction, regarding it as “tokenistic”, and sat elsewhere, leaving former leader Iain Gray to take his place.

After FMQs, Mr Sarwar told the media: “Diversity and equality training is not a punishment.

“Equality and diversity training should be compulsory for every member who’s in office, for anyone who seeks office, or indeed for everybody right across the country, whatever workplace they are in. To suggest that’s somehow a punishment, I think is unacceptable.

“What I would urge the Labour party to do is not give us words – solidarity is welcome, but solidarity is not enough. I expect deeds and that needs to happen urgently.”

Mr Leonard said the treatment of his old friend had been “appropriate”.

He said: “Hugh Gaffney has been reprimanded.

“He’s made a full apology. I have spoken to the Chinese For Labour group, and he’s referred himself to diversity and equality training.” He said he had been suspended because there was no dispute over his remarks.

“He’s admitted it, and under those circumstances, the appropriate action has already been taken. He’s been spoken to in Westminster. ”

SNP MSP Humza Yousaf said: “If these allegations are true then Richard Leonard must apologise for attempting such a brazen display of tokenism. This kind of gesture politics is an insult to Anas and frankly every BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic person) in Scotland.

“There is clearly deep unease in the Labour ranks over Richard Leonard’s refusal to take serious action against racism within the party.

“The only appropriate action is for Richard Leonard to, at the very least, suspend and withdraw the whip from Hugh Gaffney.”

Asked about the WhatsApp message, Scottish Labour said: “We don’t comment on leaks.”