Kezia Dugdale should row back on her opposition to independence and seize control of the debate by calling for a “radical alternative” to the constitutional status quo, say a former Labour first minister.
Henry McLeish, who was first minister between 2000 and 2001, said the Scottish Labour leader should “unwind” her anti-independence stance and put forward a solution along the lines of home rule or federalism.
In an interview with The Courier, the former Fife MP also called for Jeremy Corbyn to stand down to save the party from collapse and warned against treating the Brexit vote as a “binding outcome”.
Mr McLeish, who has said he is open to Scottish independence, said: “It’s actually my view that the Labour party will hold the cards as to whether Scotland eventually becomes independent or stays in the Union, but the Labour Party in Scotland have now got to – in a very bold way – say ‘we are entering this debate again’.
“What they need to find is an alternative between status quo Unionism and on the other hand independence.”
He added Ms Dugdale should “unwind” on her opposition to independence, saying she “need not position herself to be totally opposed to that”.
But he said she has a “great opportunity” to take the fight to the SNP, who he said have succeeded in convincing people that independence is the “only show in town”, by proposing a “radical alternative”.
Scottish Labour’s 2016 manifesto said they will oppose another independence referendum until at least 2021, a position Ms Dugdale has stood by since the Brexit vote.
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Labour stands with the majority of Scots who want to stay in the UK and maintain our relationship with Europe.
“But whilst the SNP and the Tories continue to obsess about the arguments of the past only Labour is talking about plans for Scotland’s future, like cutting the attainment gap, investing in our NHS, creating jobs and banning fracking.”
Mr McLeish also pleaded with warring factions of the UK party not to split if Mr Corbyn fights off challenger Owen Smith to retain his leadership.
Making a fresh plea for Mr Corbyn to step down, he denounced the campaign group Momentum as a “cult”, who he said have taken the “ridiculous” position of backing the leader instead of the party.
The Labour grandee added: “We are limping along just now and I’m afraid that there is no easy solution.
“The only thing that has to happen is that Labour doesn’t split and that might mean a tawdry situation in Parliament with the Parliamentary Labour Party not listening to the leader and the leader not referring to the PLP.”
Mr McLeish said there are precedents for holding another EU referendum on the outcome of Article 50 negotiations given the result was so tight and there was “no understanding” of what Brexit meant.
“In Quebec they had a referendum and the Quebecois lost and had another one, the SNP look like they are going to have another referendum on Scottish independence some time,” he said.
“In 1973 we voted to join the EU, in 2016 we decided to come out, and there are other examples throughout the world.”
“And this is why we should not accept that this is a binding outcome because first of all it was a consultative referendum and secondly it was based on oBrexit, with no meaning on what it stood for.”
Mr McLeish, who played for East Fife FC, proposed a “triple lock” against Brexit in which the UK parliament would have a vote on the terms of Article 50 and the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, devolved nations are given a more “substantial say” and there would be another referendum on the outcome of negotiations.