A SENIOR Labour figure has cautioned his party against embracing "hyper-Unionism".

Former shadow Scottish Secretary Paul Sweeney called for Labour and the SNP to work together on more powers for Holyrood and oppose the "common enemy" of the Tories. Labour recently stepped up its opposition to indyref2.

Sweeney, who lost his Glasgow North East seat to the SNP in the December General Election, said Sir Keir Starmer's leadership would win back Conservative voters without "hyper-Unionist messaging", adding that "binary trench warfare" on the constitution does not suit Labour.

He said: "It needs to be a much more gentle and empathetic position. We are still stuck in the trench warfare of 2014. It's not helpful, it's toxic."

Sweeney urged co-operation with the SNP to boost Holyrood's powers, adding: "Why not? We have a common enemy in the Tories."

His comments, reported last weekend, follow Starmer backing a hardline rejection of a second independence referendum. In a briefing to Scottish journalists the Labour leader said “breaking up” the UK just as the country faced up to mass unemployment is the “wrong thing to do”.

READ MORE: Keir Starmer doubles down on Scottish Labour's indyref2 stance

Labour opposed indyref2 at last year’s General Election, but it said it would not block a referendum if Scots wanted one. The caveat came after John McDonnell, the then shadow chancellor, used an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival to say a Labour government would not stand in the way of another vote.

McDonnell’s intervention angered some Scottish Labour activists who believed he had imposed the policy without consultation.

The Scottish party this month clarified its position saying they opposed indyref2 unconditionally. But the decision came after some senior figures in the party including MSPs Monica Lennon and Neil Findlay said the party should not oppose a second independence vote following the disastrous December election result.

After the position was then clarified to reject a second independence referendum, Leonard said the next Holyrood election should be about “rebuilding” Scotland’s economy, public services and communities after Covid-19, adding: “That work must be the focus of the next Scottish government and so we will be going into that election in 2021 with a Scottish Labour Party position that is opposed to a second referendum.”

READ MORE: Mhairi Black slams Keir Starmer over stance on Scottish independence

During the online press briefing last week, Starmer, who made a promise during the leadership campaign to work closely with Scottish Labour, backed the new position: “There is nothing between me and Scottish Labour on this. One of the things I am determined to do as leader of the Labour Party is to ensure that the Labour Party across the United Kingdom and in Scotland are all speaking in the same way, on the same issues.

“The argument we have to make is about radical federalism, about putting power closer to people, and I don’t just mean in the Scottish Parliament, I mean beyond that, into local councils, into local communities.”

He added: “I don’t believe breaking up the United Kingdom is the right thing to do, particularly when we are on the verge of an economic crisis, the like of which we haven’t seen for a generation.”

Asked by The National about a recent poll which showed 43% support for independence among Labour voters, he said: “It’s for us to make the argument for a radical alternative, and that means not defending the status quo.

“Breaking up the United Kingdom when we are about to face an economic crisis, with probably mass unemployment, is the wrong thing to do.”

Asked whether Leonard is the right man to lead Scottish Labour into the next Holyrood election, he said: “I have full confidence in Richard. I am working very closely with Richard. Both he and I know that we’ve got a real job of work to do in Scotland.”

As the The National reported on Saturday, the new hardline opposition to independence and a second vote has lost the party Yes-supporting members, including pro-independence activist Sean Baillie who addressed Leonard's General Election campaign launch last year.