SCOTTISH Labour activists have hit out over a move to ban members who support independence from standing for election saying Yes supporters are now “second-class citizens” in the party.

Anas Sarwar insisted earlier this week that his party’s candidates will not be allowed to “undermine” the UK at the next General Election.

The Scottish Labour leader hit out at comments attributed to a source close to Sir Keir Starmer over the weekend that the party could allow its parliamentary candidates to support independence.

A senior source told the Sunday Times: “Yes we are a pro-Unionist party but we are a broad church. That means you could have candidates who back independence. You don’t have to have a binary position; you can have people with different stances.”

That led to the Scottish Conservatives committing to only standing “pro-UK candidates in May’s local elections.”

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But the row has led to fury among some activists in the party who say Yes supporters are now regarded as lower status members.

“When I read the news that UK Labour would allow supporters to stand I thought there was finally acceptance that we are a broad church,” said one.

“On independence there seems to be a two-tier membership. People who might say they are in favour of a second referendum or independence are second-class party members.

“Your party dues, your commitment to the party should be an indicator you are a good candidate for selection. It was a shame that what was published at the weekend was rubbished almost immediately. The party is its own worst enemy when it comes to this issue. We are writing off a lot of talent when the party needs it.”

The National:

Under former UK party leader Jeremy Corbyn Labour tried to soften its stance towards independence, allowing pro-Yes supporters to stand for election in a bid to win back support from voters that had turned to the SNP in the wake of the 2014 referendum. But since Sarwar succeeded Richard Leonard as Scottish Labour leader he has taken a more hostile approach towards independence.

Some of the seats the party held at May’s Holyrood election – for instance deputy leader Jackie Baillie’s Dumbarton – was as a result of tactical voting by pro-UK Scots who turned to the candidate they thought had the best chance of defeating the SNP. It is likely this approach will continue and be underlined ahead of the council elections in May when Labour hope to win back pro-Union Tory voters amid the crisis surrounding Boris Johnson’s premiership.

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Asked whether they could see the rationale behind Sarwar position Labour as strongly pro-Union, the activist said: “I would say that electoral group is shrinking. I think hardline Unionists among people who need the Labour party most, the working class, is a volatile and shrinking group.

“I think those voters can be very frustrated with the Scottish National Party who they would regard as the establishment.”

Asked if he could make the same commitment, Sarwar said on Monday the Sunday Times’ source “clearly doesn’t understand that decisions on selecting candidates in Scotland, even for a General Election, are made by the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Labour party alone.”

“We’ll be a pro-UK party standing for a reformed and renewed UK and all our candidates will be expected to abide by that manifesto,” he added. “So we can have a Prime Minister that is for the whole United Kingdom.”