The leader of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK in 2014 has told voters that backing Labour on Thursday can remove the “threat” of another independence referendum.
Former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling has intervened in the Holyrood election campaign, urging voters in Conservative-held seats to give their second vote to Anas Sarwar’s party.
Mr Darling worked with the Tories in the successful Better Together campaign to keep Scotland in the UK in the 2014 referendum.
That decision to work with the Conservatives on a cross-party basis has been cited as one reason for the decline in Labour’s fortunes in recent years.
But Mr Darling insisted the party has changed since new leader Mr Sarwar took over just two months ago.
The former chancellor has now written to voters in Tory-held seats, making a direct appeal to them to give their second vote – on the regional list section of the ballot – to Labour.
It comes as his party and the Tories are battling for second place at Holyrood.
In a letter targeted at those living in Tory constituencies, Mr Darling insisted “voting Conservative with your second vote won’t help stop the SNP”.
While pro-UK parties won the 2014 referendum, with Scots rejecting independence by 55% to 45%, Mr Darling said since then the SNP had continued its “divisive campaign which is so damaging to our country”.
Although the Scottish Conservatives insist they are the best-placed party to stop a second independence referendum, Mr Darling claimed “only a vote for Scottish Labour will do that”.
Speaking to voters in Tory-held areas, he said: “In your seat, voting Conservative with your second vote won’t help stop the SNP. Only a vote for Scottish Labour will do that.
“You may not have voted Labour in the past, or you may have left us in recent years, but under Anas Sarwar’s leadership we have changed.”
The former MP claimed Labour under Mr Sarwar had run an “uplifting election campaign” which was “focused on a national recovery plan for Scotland, not rerunning the arguments from 2014”.
He told Scots every vote for Nicola Sturgeon’s party would be claimed as “a vote for another referendum – even though we know this is not a priority for most Scots”.
Mr Darling added: “We can take the threat of another referendum off the table by preventing an SNP majority in the Parliament.
“The only way to stop an SNP majority is by voting Scottish Labour with your second vote, on the peach ballot paper.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said that Mr Darling’s intervention was “an absolute disaster for Labour two days before the election”.
Speaking about his Labour rivals, Mr Brown said: “Not only have they learned nothing from their toxic alliance with the Tories in the Better Together campaign, but they are actively keeping it alive.
“Labour voters will be horrified to see senior figures in their party say they share Tory priorities. This simply confirms that to elect experienced leadership that will stand up to the Tories it has to be both votes SNP.
“Labour may have a new leader but they clearly haven’t changed one bit. Labour have confirmed today that they are incapable of standing up for Scotland and standing up to the Tories – no matter what they do to Scotland.”