A FORMER Scottish Labour leader has called on the party to stop being so negative when it comes to independence.

Speaking to The National, Henry McLeish said his successor should see John McDonnell’s intervention in the constitutional debate as an “opportunity”.

The former First Minister said Labour’s campaign against an independence referendum was costing the party votes, and that Richard Leonard and the party should “embrace the realities” and develop “a vision for Scotland”,

He said: “Scottish Labour needs a strategy on the Scotland question and it simply isn’t good enough to appear all the time as being negative and having your sole policy as one of opposing a second independence referendum.”

He added: “You cannot continue to block a second independence referendum without having a positive vision, strategy, idea of where you think Scotland should be in relation to the Union.”

McLeish also defended McDonnell’s comments saying he was “not advocating support for independence but advocating support for democracy”.

“If the Scottish people. the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Government support a second referendum it is very difficult then to argue against that, because if you are arguing against that it appears negative and you appear to be against democracy.

“The longer we continue to oppose a second independence referendum then vast numbers of Labour supporters think we don’t have an alternative, we don’t have an idea of how we take it forward.”

An opinion poll, published on Monday, suggested support for independence is at 52%, excluding don’t knows. The survey, reportedly carried out by YouGov, but funded and published by former Tory treasurer, Lord Ashcroft, revealed that nearly 40% of Labour voters in Scotland, excluding don’t knows, would vote yes to independence.

McLeish who served as Scotland’s second First Minister, appealed directly to Leonard “not to see this as a crisis, not to see John McDonnell’s remarks as some kind of deviation”.

He added: “Labour needs to rebuild in Scotland, it needs to rekindle interest in what it’s doing. It needs to get some traction in the polls.

“The best way of doing that is not to put aside all the policies about socialism, egalitarianism, about the economy, but actually to realise that the only show in town just now, two things, one is Brexit, and one is the future of Scotland.

“Labour has got to be clear and unequivocal on both”.

McLeish wasn’t the only figure to support McDonnell. On his Facebook page, the MSP Neil Findlay said a second vote was “for the Scottish people to decide”.

“Why the statement by John McDonnell would be deemed as controversial is beyond me – you can oppose a second referendum but recognise the right of Scottish Government (if they have a majority for it) to negotiate with the UK Government to have one.”

Former minister Douglas Alexander was less convinced: “John McDonnell is not a stupid man but his comments yesterday were strikingly ignorant. Ignorant of history, ignorant of Labour values, ignorant of the British constitution.”