Labor MSP Alex Rowley accuses pro-UK parties of closing down debate by refusing to discuss independence

A senior Labor MSP has accused the pro-UK parties of closing down debate on the constitution by refusing to discuss independence.

Alex Rowley blasted the “never” approach to independence and called for a commission to be set up to examine options for change.

He also claimed his own party is “out of step” with the wider Labor movement, some of whose leading lights back a multi-option referendum.

Anas Sarwar sharpened his party’s opposition to indyref2 after becoming Scottish Labor leader last year.

But while he regained second place at May’s council elections, internal critics believe he is not coming close to winning over pro-independence voters.

Rowley, a former deputy leader, remains opposed to independence but is critical of a “stalemate” where Scotland is split down the middle on the country’s relationship with the UK.

Anas Sarwar said he is opposed to Scottish independence

In an article for the Record, he said the council election results confirm voters are still polarized on independence and urged to rethink on moving the country forward.

He wrote: “There is a clear majority of Scots who favor 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.

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“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 scrutinize the detail of any of the options for a change in direction for Scotland’s future. ”

He added: “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.

“While 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.”

He said of the way ahead: “Rather than trying to close the issues down, we should take a lead from the Welsh Labor 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.”

Speaking to the Record, he also drew a contrast between Labour’s hostility to a referendum and the positive approach of the STUC.

Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants a referendum on independence to take place by the end of next year.

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Labor MSP Sarah Boyack said: “Scottish Labor has rightly been focusing on the cost of living crisis – because no matter if you voted yes or no your bills are going up.

“Labor recognizes 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 Labor can do that.”

SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart said: “Alex Rowley is right and his welcome intervention exposes the lack of respect for democracy by Scottish Labor under Anas Sarwar.

“But it also shows that there are senior figures in Scottish Labor 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 ‘broken ‘Westminster system that Rowley points to.

Quite frankly, Anas Sarwar’s position is unsustainable. I suspect many in Scottish Labor are well aware of that but Alex Rowley is one of the few that is honest enough to admit it.

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Sarwar needs to stop running scared. It’s time to accept that it is for the people of Scotland to decide their future of him 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.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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