RICHARD Leonard issued a strongly-worded blast at “demagogue” Boris Johnson yesterday – hours after his deputy seemed to “minimise” the importance of the referendum block.

The party’s position shifted as the day went on and outcry over Johnson’s Article 30 refusal continued.

It took the under-pressure Scottish Labour leader almost three hours to set out his position on Johnson’s letter to Nicola Sturgeon.

The publication of that letter triggered a wave of outrage after Johnson said granting the transfer of power that would allow a legal referendum on the constitution would be undemocratic.

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Ninety minutes later, Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour’s constitution spokesperson, released a short statement which suggested the constitution was the last thing Scotland should be thinking about.

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He said: “The immediate priority for both the Prime Minister and the First Minister should be minimising the damage caused by Brexit. There are conversations to be had in the future about other issues, but at the moment the focus should be on protecting Scotland’s interests in the face of our imminent exit from the EU.”

But Leonard seemed to contradict that when he issued his own strongly-worded statement attacking the Prime Minister and insisting that the status quo must change. However, rather than backing independence, Leonard called Home Rule “the only viable option that stands a chance of healing the divisions in our society”.

Mounting a personal attack on Johnson, Leonard said: “I have long argued that the future of Scotland will be won and lost in Scotland, and not on the banks of the River Thames.

“Boris Johnson’s decision to block a second independence referendum in perpetuity does not change this.

“And it is spectacularly naively to think this will close the issue down. It will only inflame the debate, as Boris Johnson’s history of demagoguery and division shows he is well practised in doing.

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“Scotland and the whole UK are deeply unequal societies which desperately need radical change. But the Tories are hell-bent on destroying what is left of the welfare state, and the SNP are advocating a decade of cuts in a separate Scottish state.

“The people of Scotland rejected independence in 2014, but Scotland remains divided. I believe that Home Rule within the UK is the only viable option that stands a chance of healing the divisions in our society.

“We can’t wait for a UK Labour government to deliver this, so we must demand it now and mobilise for radical change.”

Ian Murray, Labour’s only remaining MP in Scotland, had not made any public comment last night.

The shifting stance came after Labour’s Scottish executive committee rejected Leonard’s plan to hold a special conference to determine how to handle the independence issue.

Earlier this week, Rowley told The National that members are “very disillusioned that the Scottish executive committee don’t seem to see the urgency” with them on the key matter.