HENRY McLeish has said that the “window of opportunity out there for an alternative to independence” is “closing fast”.

The former first minister also urged his old party to learn the lessons of their “thumping defeat” in last month’s election.

Speaking to The National, he criticised the decision of Scottish Labour’s ruling Scottish Executive Committe (SEC) to effectively close down the party’s discussion on the constitution over the weekend.

Talking about independence, indyref2, and federalism should not, he said, be seen as “undermining the Union”.

Over the weekend, the SEC blocked Richard Leonard’s plans to hold a special conference for party members in May to thrash out Labour’s position on a second referendum.

Instead, the executive will discuss federalism at an “away day”.

READ MORE: Henry McLeish: Labour is voting against democracy in blocking indyref2

McLeish, who celebrates his 50th year in Labour this year, told The National: “On this occasion, Richard Leonard is learning from the defeat, his colleagues around him and the executive have got to share the same particular view.”

He added: “People have got to realise that we cannot continue to experience such thumping defeats and learn nothing from it.

“The only way that Labour can reconnect with the Scottish debate is through having a position on the constitutional question.

“That’s why I think Richard Leonard should not be criticised about embracing nationalism, or embracing independence or embracing the SNP, he’s not doing any of that.

The National: Richard Leonard should not be criticised for trying to keep his party relevantRichard Leonard should not be criticised for trying to keep his party relevant

“What he’s trying to do is to break out of the self-imposed straitjacket that we have in Scotland. We never talk about the future of Scotland.

“A lot of people think we would be undermining our commitment to the Union. But the best way to continue to undermine the Union is to continue to act as we are. Because if we do not do anything now there will be drift and drift and drift towards independence as a default position.”

McLeish, who was Scotland’s second first minister, serving between 2000 and 2001, said that while there was currently “still a window of opportunity out there for an alternative to independence, that window is closing fast.

“But nevertheless, a majority of Scots have not yet enthusiastically embraced the idea of breaking free from the Union. But the longer time elapses, the more possible that outcome could be”.

He called on Labour to start “telling voters what it actually stands for. What is the creed,what is the platform, what is the intention?

READ MORE: Henry McLeish: Ditch first-past-the-post MSPs at Holyrood

“And as part of that I urge them again to reconsider the view that Westminster is more important than Scotland. It cannot be like that.

“And we’ve seen a situation where we’ve got far too close to leadership in London. We’ve not yet as a party began to realise the full potential of working strenuously within the Scottish Parliament to get the change we want.”

“Never has the United Kingdom, looked so weak. The ties that bind are loosening,” he added.

McLeish’s comments follow those of Labour leadership favourite Rebecca Long-Bailey.

On Sunday she said that “ultimately the people of Scotland need to make the case” for independence.

Her rival Jess Phillips disagreed: “Let nationalists make the case for nationalism, we should make the argument for solidarity and internationalism.”

Nicola Sturgeon rebuked the Birmingham Yardley MP.

Taking to twitter she said: “It’s not independence that’s threatening Scotland’s internationalism – it’s not being independent and therefore dragged out of the EU against our will that’s doing it.”