AN ally of Jeremy Corbyn has urged Richard Leonard to open a discussion about Scottish independence should he succeed Kezia Dugdale next month.

Les Huckfield, a former Labour minister and MEP, backs Leonard in the contest to become leader of Scottish Labour, and is still in contact with Corbyn despite having left the party over the Iraq war.

Corbyn will visit Scotland later this month when he is due to meet party members and address the annual Scottish conference being held by the trade union Unite. Leonard is due to attend the conference to hear Corbyn’s speech.

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Huckfield, who lives in Scotland and is voting for Leonard through his membership of the trade union Unite, said he was disappointed by the Central Scotland MSP’s statement last month in which he opposed a second vote on independence and ruled out doing any deals with the SNP if elected leader.

“I would hope that if Richard wins he will not rule out working with the SNP against the Tories,” Huckfield told The National.

“I find it difficult to understand Richard’s position about being opposed to a second independence referendum and I hope he will change his stance. The worry many people have is that we are getting closer and closer to an almost impossible Brexit situation and fears are mounting over a no deal situation.

“And in that scenario I believe Scottish independence is absolutely essential.”

Huckfield said he found it hard to understand why some in Scottish Labour took such a hardline anti-independence stance.

“There are a lot of Labour for independence people. They are still around and take the view that the party’s opposition to it can be changed,” he said.

“I would hope Richard, if elected, will open up a discussion within the party about independence and not take the line he does at the moment.”

Leonard is being backed by the pro-Corbyn left-wing group Campaign for Socialism, which believes he is the candidate more likely to strengthen the party’s position north of the Border by appealing to former Labour voters who have moved to the SNP.

Huckfield has previously suggested Leonard was likely to lose support by attacking independence, because it would put off potential supporters who were Yes voters.

Last month a statement, posted by Leonard’s team on Twitter, said: “For the avoidance of doubt, let me make it clear. There will be no ground ceded to nationalism at the expense of progressive socialism under my leadership.

“No coalition, pacts or deals with the SNP. And no second independence referendum.”

Nominations published yesterday suggest Leonard is the frontrunner, securing the backing of 34 constituency labour parties (CLPs), 13 trade unions and affiliated group as well as 76 councillors, while Sarwar is backed by 15 CLPs, one trade union and 76 councillors.

Fife councillor Mary Lockhart, who backed independence in 2014, is among those supporting Leonard, while Inverclyde council leader Stephen McCabe and Glasgow city council Labour group leader Frank McAveety back Sarwar.

Voting opens on 27 October and closes on 17 November with the winner announced the next day. Nominations close at noon today. Dugdale stood down as leader in August following a visit by Corbyn to Scotland.