Labour leader Anas Sarwar has conceded he is “not yet” a candidate for First Minister of Scotland.
Sarwar said he does not believe he can “turn around the decline of the Labour Party in Scotland for the last 20 years” before the May 6 Holyrood election.
He took over the leadership of the party north of the border just weeks ago, saying at the time it was at just 14% in the polls.
He said he is “not naive about the scale of the challenge” he faces in attempting to restore the party’s fortunes.
Labour was once the dominant party in Scotland but the SNP has been in power at Holyrood for the last 14 years.
Support for Sarwar’s party declined in the aftermath of the 2014 independence referendum, during which it worked with the Tories in the Better Together campaign.
Labour is now fighting to overtake the Tories and become the main opposition party at Holyrood. The Conservatives became the second-largest party in 2016.
Sarwar insisted Scotland deserves an opposition that is “not a cheap game-playing opposition like we have had from the Conservatives”.
But when asked if he is a contender to become first minister in next month’s poll, he said: “Not yet.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he added: “I would love to be a contender for first minister, if people choose to vote on May 6 for me to be first minister I would be very, very proud – but I am also a realist.
“And I am not naive about the scale of the challenge.
“Three days before I became leader we were at 14% in the polls, we’re making progress on that over the last five weeks, we still have three weeks to go until the election.”
But he said that when Scots cast their ballots, they are also “voting for an opposition” as well as electing the next government.
Sarwar said he wants to stop the SNP winning an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament “so they aren’t blindsided by their weakness on the constitution” with a second independence referendum, and can instead be “focused” on the coronavirus recovery.
He added: “Let’s have an opposition that is not a cheap game-playing opposition like we have had from the Conservatives.
“Let’s have an opposition that is going to pull Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP towards the people’s priorities.
“I am being honest and saying I don’t think I can turn around the decline of the Labour Party in Scotland for the last 20 years, I don’t think I can turn that decline around in the 10 weeks from the moment I became leader to the election.”