IT is a question which one senior Labour party figure says he is asked wherever he goes:  ‘what has happened to the party in Scotland’? And it’s now even more of a burning issue after it was last week plunged into crisis over the issue of a second independence referendum.

First shadow chancellor John McDonnell expressly said the party would not block a second referendum if there was evidence that Scots wanted it ... a statement which was the direct opposite of the party’s policy north of the Border.

During the days that followed the Scottish and UK factions of the party fell out over McDonnell’s comments and the Scottish party was itself divided over a statement condemning McDonnell released in its name.

As the week drew to an end the party was in tatters with no obvious way of putting itself back together.

McDonnell’s comments were made at a Fringe event in Edinburgh on Tuesday, when he said a UK Labour government would not block indyref2 as it would be undemocratic if voters and Holyrood wanted it.

READ MORE: Labour turmoil deepens as top official quits amid indyref civil war

His position – sprung on the Scottish party without consultation - flatly contradicted that of Richard Leonard, who has said a Labour government would block it.

The party’s week from hell continued with feuding among MSPs over the referendum issue and the resignation of the party’s top official Brian Roy, with reports suggesting he was forced out. After winning just 9% of the vote north of the Border in May’s European elections, the fresh exposure of bitter divisions both between London and Scotland and within Scottish Labour itself is the last thing the already struggling party needed.

Dr Andrew Crines, senior lecturer in politics at the University of Liverpool, said it appeared from McDonnell’s comment that UK Labour has “basically given up on Scotland now”.

He said: “Scottish Labour have had a lot of bad weeks, so it is very difficult to work out which is the worst.But being provoked by the Westminster party in this way is a very bad week for Scottish Labour.”

Crines said Scottish Labour was facing huge difficulties after being totally replaced by the SNP and had now assumed the “small-ish” role the Liberal Democrats used to have in the country.

He added: “So the future is that they need to try and find a way of supplanting the SNP. But that is very difficult given its [the SNP’s] position in government and prominence.

“For Scottish Labour, all they can do is bed down and try their best to make sure they don’t become totally irrelevant.”

Former Labour adviser Ayesha Hazarika described McDonnell’s comments as “jaw-droppingly uncomradely” and said it raised the issue once again of Scottish Labour’s “branch office status”.

The National: Ayesha Hazarika hit out at McDonnell's commentsAyesha Hazarika hit out at McDonnell's comments

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland yesterday, she said: “Whatever your opinion on what the substance of what he announced, to have dropped that huge constitutional bombshell at a Fringe event without any consultation or discussion with the leadership up in Scotland or the members, I thought was very, very crass.

“It reminded me of back in the day when ex-Labour leader in Scotland Johann Lamont complained the leadership in London viewed Scotland as a sort of branch office, and never gave the leadership in Scotland adequate respect and parity.

“It also sends a signal that the leadership in London have sort of given up on Labour in Scotland, in the sense they haven’t even deemed to discuss that with them on an equal basis.”

One possibility being raised is that McDonnell’s comments are designed to pave the way for some kind of deal with the SNP following a general election.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP could be part of a “progressive alternative”, rather than a formal coalition, if it meant it could halt Boris Johnson’s government.

Hazarika said the comments by McDonnell signalled Corbyn is “prepared to break up the union to get the keys to number 10.”

She added: “Currently both leadership teams in terms of the Conservatives and the Labour party are absolutely prepared to throw their members in Scotland under the bus and indeed their leaders in Scotland under the bus.

“The interesting thing is the two parties that really benefit from all of this … are of course the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. That is a gift to them.”

Leonard last week hit back at McDonnell’s remarks, saying Labour’s official policy is still to oppose a referendum.

READ MORE: Scottish Labour are still completely deluded

He also said he had spoken to McDonnell to “put to him the very clear view that the people of Scotland do not want a second independence referendum and also to remind him that the last independence referendum was supposed to be once in a generation.”

However at a second Fringe event, McDonnell later appeared to reiterate his position, saying he was “not being set up by Nicola Sturgeon to blame the UK Government for blocking the will of the Scottish people”.

The National: John McDonnell made the announcement at a Fringe show which made other Labour members extremely uncomfortableJohn McDonnell made the announcement at a Fringe show which made other Labour members extremely uncomfortable

Ian Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, was among those who spoke out against the shadow chancellor’s comments, describing them as “ludicrous”.

“It is not UK or Scottish Labour policy, indeed our leader in Scotland Richard Leonard has been pretty clear that it is no to a second independence referendum,” he said.

“John McDonnell also extraordinarily mentioned an English parliament which we don’t have, he is playing right into the hands of the nationalists here,

“So I think he should apologise to Richard Leonard and he should apologise to the Scottish Labour party members for coming out with a thoroughly dreadful way to try and change policy - even if he has changed policy, we don’t even know if he has as he hasn’t clarified his comments.”

According to the most recent poll, published last week by Lord Ashcroft, more than one-third of 2017 Labour voters favour Indyref2 taking place.

A YouGov survey last month also found four out of ten Labour party member back Scottish independence.

READ MORE: Labour civil war explodes into three-way fight over indyref2

FORMER Labour First Minister Henry McLeish said Murray was rightly annoyed at the “arrogance” of Westminster Labour “acting as if the Scottish party doesn’t exist”.

But he argued one key issue as to why the party has lost traction in Scotland was because of its reluctance to get involved in the constitutional question.

He said: “Far too many people in the party think that once you talk about Scotland, in some way you are conceding to the SNP or you are conceding your socialism – neither of which are true.

“So it is a kind of wake-up call to the reality of politics in 2019.

“As far as I am concerned we needn’t walk away from the issue, we needn’t be embarrassed about the Scotland question – we have every right to be at the heart of this debate.

“We have got to accept that politics has changed and without getting involved in the constitutional question, we will continue to lose votes and continue to see the people looking at us and thinking how credible, how relevant, how radical can the Labour party be?

“There are many Labour supporters who are concerned we don’t have a policy on this, we don’t have a policy on Brexit.”

However, McLeish argued it was not too late yet for the party and a discussion on what alternatives it could offer to try to attract the ‘50%’ of Scots who don’t embrace independence – but may be willing to consider some other form of constitutional change.

He said: “I meet them [Labour voters] regularly in my old constituency, I meet them everywhere I go in Edinburgh.

“The basic question they ask is what has happened to the Labour party?

"I try and say to people yes, it is a big problem, but it is not insurmountable.

“The danger is the longer we continue to drift, then the more we will not get involved in the big issues impacting the country – both Scotland and the UK, and we will miss out.

“The less we are engaged with the constitutional debate in any serious way, the more people will look away from us.”

He added: “For Labour, it needn’t be the independence route, but the danger is if we don’t start to create a debate around an alternative - then Scotland may just drift and drift and drift until there is no alternative.”

McDonnell’s intervention has also exposed tensions within the party between the left and the right of the party, and pro and anti-Corbyn MSPs.

The Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party (SPLP) released a statement saying it would not accept a change in policy being foisted on them by the UK leadership.

“We deplore any attempts to undermine the official policy position of the Scottish Labour Party and express serious concerns about an apparent change in Labour’s position on a matter of vital importance to the future of Scotland and of the Scottish Labour Party itself,” it said.

However, it then emerged Leonard had opposed the release of the statement.

Lothian MSP Neil Findlay, who spearheaded Corbyn’s campaigns in Scotland, also tweeted that he did not support the statement going out.

He said many other members of the Labour group had taken the same view, adding it was “an abuse of power” by the chair of the group, Jackie Baillie.

Labour party activist Dr Ewan Gibbs, a lecturer in sociology and social policy at University of the West of Scotland, welcomed McDonnell’s comments saying he believed the issue of a second referendum was a “straightforward democratic question”.

HE said: “There is a hard unionist minority in Scottish Labour which is over-represented in the Scottish PLP and elsewhere at the top of the party, which is committed to a strategy which has failed Scottish Labour miserably.

“The other motivation is frankly a right/left split in the party- broadly the people who are most ardently opposed to McDonnell’s stance are unsurprisingly are also members who oppose Jeremy Corbyn, who oppose Richard Leonard. “That is a contributing factor too, and I think that is major motivator here.”

Rory Scothorne, a writer and activist with Labour Campaign for Socialism, also attributed the reaction to McDonnell’s comments to a split between the right and left in the Scottish party.

He said: “One argument that people are making is the leadership is doing some kind of deal with the SNP – to stitch up a Westminster coalition and ignore Scottish members. That is complete nonsense.

“There is a sizeable constituency in the Scottish Labour party who recognise that we have got to be serious on this stuff. We can’t go on banging our heads against a Union Jack for the indefinite future – which is not to say we are going to support independence anytime soon, but we do support Scotland’s right to have a referendum.

“If you just make everything about defending the union at all costs and ignoring what the Scottish Parliament says about independence, you are on a one-way ticket to electoral oblivion.”

The fall-out will continue tomorrow, with Leonard facing MSPs at an away-day for his Holyrood group in Glasgow A spokeswoman for Scottish Labour said he continued to “engage constructively” with the leadership of the UK Labour party.

She added: “Scotland needs radical, reforming Labour governments at Holyrood and Westminster – not more constitutional division.

"The solution to the challenges will not be found in referendums on independence but with Labour governments in London and Edinburgh.”