SENIOR Scottish Labour figures have issued an appeal to members not to quit the party ahead of the Holyrood election after Sir Keir Starmer underlined his opposition to a second independence referendum.

Neil Findlay MSP, peer Pauline Bryan, former minister Malcolm Chisholm, North Ayrshire council leader Joe Cullinane and Matt Kerr, as well as former Jeremy Corbyn aide Tommy Kane, and ex-MP Hugh Gaffney are among 62 people who have signed an open letter making the plea. Their intervention is being backed by leading trade unionists and comes weeks after a number of activists left the party following Starmer’s unconditional rejection of a new independence vote.

The letter, published in Tribune at the weekend, urges members to stay and for the party to listen to “both sides of the Yes-No divide”.

It says: “On the constitution we say the Labour Party must stop conflating the substance of support or opposition to independence itself with the process of determining whether there should be another referendum.

“The Labour Party must seek to speak to, listen to and influence both sides of the Yes-No divide.

“If you agree then please stay and help to shape and influence the approach taken by the Labour Party in Scotland.

“We urge you to unite and fight. Unity always brings strength. Let’s organise and ensure we have a Labour Party that responds to the needs – and reflects the objectives – of the Scottish people.”

Other signatories to the open letter include Siobhan McCready, Unite delegate to the Scottish Executive Committee (SEC), ASLEF’s organiser in Scotland Kevin Lindsay, and Jackson Cullinane, Unite delegate to the SEC.

Campaign for Socialism chair Vince Mills and former chair of the Scottish Labour Party Bob Thomson are also among the leading activists who have signed.

Prominent Yes activist Sean Baillie announced his decision to leave the party after Starmer underlined the party’s opposition to a second independence referendum and as a row broke out over the sacking of rival leadership contender and left-winger Rebecca Long-Bailey from his top team.

“I cancelled my Labour Party membership earlier this week, I wanted to write to my CLP sec [constituency party secretary] rather than make a big deal out of it,” he tweeted at the time.

Baillie was among the left-wing activists who addressed a rally in Maryhill last November where Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard kickstarted the party’s General Election campaign.

During a Zoom briefing with Scottish journalists last month Starmer backed Scottish Labour’s unconditional rejection of a second independence referendum.

The Labour leader said “breaking up” the UK just as the country faced mass unemployment is the “wrong thing to do”.

He also offered his support to Leonard, who has presided over heavy election defeats.

Labour opposed indyref2 at last year’s General Election but they said they would not block a vote if Scots wanted one.

The caveat came after John McDonnell, at that point shadow chancellor, used an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival to say a Labour government would not stand in the way of another vote.