Sadiq Khan has reignited a furious row with the SNP after he accused the Nationalists of pushing an agenda of “isolationism and division”.
Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, was forced to defend the London Mayor over his claim that there was “no difference” between Scottish nationalism and racism.
Mr Khan insisted he was “not saying that nationalists are somehow racist or bigoted” during his speech to the Scottish Labour conference in Perth on Saturday – but stood by his comments in an interview with The Courier.
“We live in a time where there is a rise of populist and narrow nationalist movements across the world,” said Mr Khan when asked if he thought his actions would help Labour win back votes from the SNP.
“We live at a time where people have voted for President Trump and voted to leave the European Union.
“Now, you have two choices as a sensible politician. You can try and address the people’s fears, or play on them.
“I’m a firm believer in hope and unity rather than fear and division.
“You know, at a time when we are looking for an antidote to Trump and Brexit I don’t think we should be talking about separation.
“The message I would have to the voters in Scotland, and the voters in Wales and all around the UK is we should recognise the huge strengths we have as a country.
“It’s a huge sense of pride to me that on a whole host of issues we as a country punch well above our weight.
“The point I was trying to make is that as the Mayor of London I am a patriot. I love Scotland, I love the UK and I want to see all of us benefit.
“That means being hopeful and being confident rather than looking towards isolationism and division.”
Ms Dugdale insisted Mr Khan did not accuse the SNP of being racist when she was questioned about the row on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme.
She said: “Well I think Sadiq Kahn was very clear yesterday that he wasn’t accusing the SNP of racism.
“What he was saying very clearly, though, was that nationalism by its very nature divides people, divides communities and that’s what I had said in my speech yesterday that actually I’m fed up living in a divided and fractured country, a divided and fractured society.
“Our politics is forcing us constantly to pick sides. Whether you are Yes or No, Leave or Remain. This brings out the worst in our politics.
“The worst in our politicians and all the consensus and progress we can find in the grey areas is lost.”
Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, has said Mr Khan’s comments were a “sign of the sheer desperation and moral bankruptcy that has driven so many from Scottish Labour’s ranks”.
Meanwhile, Mr Khan, Labour’s most powerful elected politician in the UK, also admitted his party “is not in a healthy place”.
He added: “I’m a firm believer in positive campaigns but it means talking to everyone not just those who already vote for your party.”
It came as Ms Dugdale warned the party in England could be heading for the same electoral catastrophe it has suffered in Scotland, where it now has just one MP at Westminster and has been overtaken by the Conservatives at Holyrood.
The Tory electoral victory in Copeland last week, the first time since 1982 that a governing party had gained an opposition seat in a by-election, has caused panic within Labour across Britain.
Ms Dugdale said: “In many respects what is happening in the North of England is what happened to the Scottish Labour party two years ago.
“We were the canary down the mine, so to speak, in terms of losing the faith of working class communities across the country.
“So yes these are very difficult times for the Scottish Labour party and indeed the UK Labour family. I’ve never shied away from that reality but I have a plan in place to turn things around. It is going to take time though.”
David Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary, claimed at the weekend that Jeremy Corbyn has driven Labour to its worst position in living memory following.