A SECOND independence referendum cannot be repeatedly blocked by Labour “because you’re voting against democracy”, a former Scottish first minister has said. 

Henry McLeish, who was Scotland’s second first minister from 2000 to 2001, said alternatives to Scottish independence are “slowly closing down”.

He said his party needed to rethink its policies around independence and come up with an alternative, likely based around the idea of federalism, while it can.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, he said: “People keep talking about an indyref2. What we need to be talking about is a referendum about the future of Scotland.

“There’s a wider issue, and the fact is that the polls really haven’t moved since 2014 in terms of independence.

“There is a window of opportunity. But the point is that Labour cannot be seen just to be sticking to old shibboleths, old ideas.

“This is 2020. We’re 120 years on from the party being created, and I think if we change our views in Scotland we will change the mood.

“And there is a Labour vote in Scotland that would want to vote Labour.”

His comments come after Scottish Labour’s governing body blocked plans to hold a special conference to thrash out its position on a second referendum.

Scottish leader Richard Leonard had wanted to hold the meeting in May. But in a blow to his authority, this was rejected by the Scottish Executive Committee.

He said: “I think it’s important that you cannot keep voting against the idea of an indyref2 because you’re voting against democracy.

“What the Labour Party needs instead is an alternative. Can the Union be saved? Can Scots have a policy which they like which stops short of independence?

“The SNP have done fabulously well in promoting one idea. But Scotland has not [been] shown yet as enthusiastically embracing the whole question of independence.

“That’s Labour’s opportunity in Scotland, and Richard Leonard’s right to take it.”

He added: “I’ve been talking about federalism for a decade. I’ve been talking about an independent Scottish Labour Party for a decade.

“These are not new or brilliant ideas. But Labour has failed to gain any traction post-devolution in Scotland.

“We have a situation where the SNP are the voice of Scotland.

“Now, if Labour wants to emulate any of that, it’s got to quite rightly say, ‘Look, if the future of Scotland’s important, do Scots want independence, or is there an alternative?'

“But let’s be honest, the opportunity for alternatives is slowly closing down, and my fear is that if we don’t watch, the Labour Party will be part of a policy that helps us drift towards independence.”

He said “that might be a good idea at the end of the day”, but added: “That’s why Labour should embrace democracy, because if they want to put an alternative up to independence, which I think would be federalism, that would be fine. But if they don’t, that’s also fine.

“But at the end of the day, Labour has got to reconnect with the electorate in Scotland, reconnect with the idea of a different Scotland – whether it’s in the Union or out of the Union, and currently they’re not doing it. This is not rocket science. They should be doing this at the present time.”