THE two candidates vying to be the next leader of Scottish Labour have both rejected calls for the party north of the Border to break away from UK Labour.
But Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh, taking part in a leadership debate on BBC Two’s Scotland 2015 programme, insisted they would not be at the beck and call of party leaders in London.
The two MSPs are standing for the leadership of Scottish Labour after Jim Murphy stood down following the party’s heavy losses to the SNP in the general election.
With Labour against the Conservatives in England and the nationalists in Scotland, some have argued for the creation of a separate party north of the Border.
The two rivals were questioned on the issue as they appeared last night on the BBC show hosted by Sarah Smith.
While Ms Dugdale said Labour needed a “fresh start”, she argued staying part of the UK party was the right thing to do.
She said: “I don’t support the calls for an independent Labour Party – we have just won the referendum on the principle of pooling and sharing resources across the whole of the UK.
“I think if those arguments apply to the constitution they should apply to the party.”
But she stressed: “We don’t need autonomy to stand up for what we believe is right here in Scotland and I’ve proven that I’m willing to do that and I’ll continue to do that.
“I’m not going to seek permission to speak – there’s that old saying it’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”
Mr Macintosh said the notion that Scottish Labour was controlled by party leaders in London was “fictional”.
But he said if he was elected leader he would “negotiate a formal agreement” with party leaders south of the Border “because sometimes you have to mark your intentions with actions”.
He stated: “The thing I really want to do is break up the party machine. What depresses me is not this fictional London control, it’s things like the Falkirk selection debacle where you’ve got unions trying to select the candidate of their.
“That’s what I would end, I would give the members back control. Making sure that policies come from the members and supporters, that’s where they should come from – not focus groups or the party hierarchy.”
Both Mr Macintosh and Ms Dugdale also said Labour MPs had been wrong to abstain in a vote in the Commons last week on Conservative welfare reforms.
The majority of Labour MPs, including three of the four candidates for Labour’s UK leadership, abstained although a number of MPs, including leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn, voted against it.
Ms Dugdale said she was “angry” with the way the majority of her party’s MPs had voted.
The Lothians MSP argued tax credits, which the Conservatives want to reduce, “were one of the best things the Labour government introduced, helping families across the land to make ends meet”.
She said: “We failed to defend those families when we failed to vote against that policy last week. We failed to stand up for our record as well.
“I’m proud of that record and I was angry when our MPs didn’t vote against it.”
Mr Macintosh said he would have defied the Labour whips and voted against the Welfare Reform and Work Bill if he had been at Westminster. “I made it very clear I was disappointed,” the Eastwood MSP said.
But he added the division in the party had come about “because Labour doesn’t have a leader at the moment, it’s not because Labour is suddenly pro-austerity”.