RICHARD Leonard has distanced himself from comments made by a Labour MP calling for Scottish nationalists to be “killed off”.

Speaking at the Scots night at Labour conference in Liverpool on Monday, party chairman Ian Lavery told delegates: “We need to kill off the nationalists in Scotland and regain that great country.”

SNP MSP Gillian Martin tweeted: “Again with the language of violence in relation to hmmmm around 50% of that great country....way to win friends and influence people!”

Pressed on the comment, the Scottish Labour leader admitted he would not have used “that kind of language”, saying he wants a “battle of ideas” with independence supporters.

“I want to win that battle of ideas, not by coercion but by persuading people that we have got the answers to the big challenges that we face economically and socially in Scotland.”

He added: “I think there is growing evidence that the SNP does not have the answers to these questions, but I am absolutely clear that the Labour party does.”

Leonard also distanced himself from predecessor Kezia Dugdale’s legal battle with Wings Over Scotland editor Stuart Campbell.

Labour’s new UK general secretary Jennie Formby recently announced that the party would no longer be funding Dugdale’s defence, breaking a promise made to the Lothians MSP by previous general secretary Iain McNicol.

The former Scottish Labour leader is being sued for defamation after suggesting that a tweet by Campbell was homophobic.

Reportedly, a number of MSPs have urged Leonard to intervene on Dugdale’s behalf but so far, he has refused to challenge Formby’s decision.

Scottish members tried to have the decision debated on the floor of the party’s annual conference in Liverpool but it was rejected.

Leonard said: “I’m not sure that the floor of the Labour party is the best way to discuss the funding of Kezia’s legal defence.”

But he added: “I understand entirely why people are extremely disappointed that that decision has been taken not to continue the funding of Kez’s legal defence.

“I understand there is quite a lot of upset about that but my reading of it that the decision has been taken and the decision is not going to change.”

The party will pay the £90k legal costs to date, but Dugdale will be liable for all future expenses.