Embrace devo-max, Labour told

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FORMER first minister Henry McLeish has issued a rallying cry to his party, warning Labour to embrace devolution max, or risk being left behind by the SNP.

Days before a special conference on Saturday to approve rule changes to give the party north of Border more autonomy, Mr McLeish said time was running out ahead of a decision by Alex Salmond on when to call an independence referendum.

Writing in The Scotsman today, he said his party should “take ownership” of devo-max, the term given to fiscal autonomy, pushing the SNP to show its true favoured position is independence.

He said the showdown with the SNP would require “courage, confidence and leadership” – attributes, he said, that had been missing in his party in Scotland for more than a decade.

Mr McLeish said to provide a “credible and intelligent” alternative to SNP, his party would have to “think the unthinkable”.

He said: “The need to embrace and explain devo-max to the Scottish people is vital if the idea of independence is to be confronted and defeated. Time is running out, as Alex Salmond decides when the national will of the people of Scotland will be put to the test.

“If there are two questions on the referendum ballot paper, Labour cannot afford to be saying No, No.

“On the other hand, by seizing the initiative on devo-max, Labour could win a clear majority, defeat independence, change completely the Scottish political dynamic and reversenearly a decade of SNP hegemony.”

He added: “Labour should … push the SNP into accepting responsibility and campaigning for their true position, independence. This will require courage, confidence, leadership and self-belief.

“Labour’s rethink is taking shape. There will be new autonomy for the Scottish party, a new transformed relationship with UK Labour, a new Scottish leader and a distinctive identity.”