A VETERAN Labour MSP has criticised the “self-defeating” refusal of the pro-Union parties at Holyrood to discuss independence, accusing them of being too “scared” to do so.
Former deputy leader Alex Rowley said the “Never” approach to the constitutional question did a disservice to the country’s voters, by denying them a chance to consider other options for change.
Mr Rowley said if Unionist parties failed to tackle the issue they would be “overwhelmed by the majority who want change and will opt for the only option on offer”.
He claimed his own party was “out of step” with the broader Labour movement, and called for the creation of a commission to examine possible ways forward.
A long-time ally of Gordon Brown, the left-wing former Scottish Labour general secretary made his comments in an article for the Daily Record.
The Scottish Tories said it was “just the latest example of Labour caving into the Nationalists on independence”.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar overtook the Tories in the recent council elections after taking a hardline on the Union and refusing to enter into any coalitions with the SNP.
However Mr Rowley said a highly polarised approach could not last.
He wrote: “There is a clear majority of Scots who favour change.
“The options for change, however, are not being considered because political parties are closing down such discussions, scared that they might talk Scottish independence into reality and that by avoiding the subject, it might just go away.
“For those Unionist parties who simply refuse to discuss the question, I believe this is self-defeating – they will eventually be overwhelmed by the majority who want change and will opt for the only option on offer.
“As such, the ‘Never’ approach to the constitutional question denies the people of Scotland, including those that support remaining with the UK, an opportunity to examine and scrutinise the detail of any of the options for a change in direction for Scotland’s future.”
The MidoScotland & Fife MSP went on: “Personally, I do not believe that independence is the best way forward for Scotland. If I did, I would support it.
“But I do believe that the system governing the UK is broken and that to refuse to engage with what we can change out of fear of Scottish independence does a great disservice to all the people of Scotland, however they voted in the referendum and wherever their allegiances lie now.
“Whilst it is clear at the present time there is little appetite for a referendum, mainly due to the public health and economic pressures on the country, that view will no doubt change in the years ahead.
“Rather than trying to close the issues down, we should take a lead from the Welsh Labour government who have established an independent commission to examine and consult with the public on the best options for Wales moving forward.
“The alternative of allowing divisions to grow and views to harden is in no one’s interest and certainly not in the interest of the people of Scotland.”
Tory MSP Donald Cameron MSP said: “Alex Rowley seems to think that politicians should be spending even more time and resources talking about a divisive second independence referendum that the majority of Scots oppose.
“He is wrong and out of touch – Scots want the SNP Government to concentrate on our post-pandemic recovery and sorting out the public services that have deteriorated so badly after 15 years of nationalist rule.
“Opposition parties should be holding the SNP to account on these issues, not giving them a ‘get out of jail free’ card to keep prioritising their usual obsession.
“We know that if the SNP didn’t get full independence at a referendum, they would immediately start campaigning for another one. Labour is just playing into the SNP’s hands by talking up compromises on the constitution.”
SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart said Mr Rowley was right and his “welcome intervention exposes the lack of respect for democracy by Scottish Labour under Anas Sarwar”.
She said: “It also shows there are senior figures in Scottish Labour who are not prepared to put up with this craven alliance with the Tories, in a Trump-like denial of democracy.
“The only reason people like Anas Sarwar are refusing to allow democracy and debate to take place is because they are running scared of the inevitable – that when the people of Scotland have their say, they will vote for a better future, away from the ‘broken’ Westminster system that Rowley points to.
“Quite frankly, Anas Sarwar’s position is unsustainable.
“I suspect many in Scottish Labour are well aware of that but Alex Rowley is one of the few that is honest enough to admit it. Mr Sarwar needs to stop running scared.
“ It’s time to accept that it is for the people of Scotland to decide their future and for him to make whatever case he can muster for a future of continued Westminster control over a fairer, more equal future as a normal independent country.”
Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said: “Scottish Labour has rightly been focusing on the cost of living crisis – because no matter if you voted yes or no your bills are going up.
“Labour recognises the UK needs to change. The frustration with Boris Johnson’s Tories is felt just as strongly in Liverpool, Cardiff and London as it is in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
“Gordon Brown is leading a Commission on the UK’s constitutional future and we are doing our own work here in Scotland.
“The next electoral contest in Scotland is a General Election. It is our opportunity to boot out Boris and change the whole of the UK. Only Labour can do that.”