A LABOUR MP and former party leadership contender has said Scots face a clear choice between becoming an independent nation in the EU or being "ruled by English nationalists" under the Union.

Clive Lewis made the comments as he hit out at Sir Keir Starmer axing the party's support for European free movement when he appeared on the BBC's Andrew Marr show yesterday.

"Post-Brexit it now seems increasingly clear the Scottish people have two clear choices before them: 1. Union with a declining imperial power, ruled by hard-right, neoliberal English nationalists – or ... vote for Scottish independence and look to rejoin the EU, an emerging power with democratic institutions gaining in power, not receding. Hmmmm," he wrote on Twitter last night.

READ MORE: Keir Starmer told indyref2 'essential' to Scotland's Covid recovery

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Labour MP Clive Lewis. Photograph: Getty

Lewis, who stood in last year's Labour leadership contest won by Starmer, hit out at Starmer's abandonment of the party's backing for free movement. 

"What I think [Starmer] actually meant to say was, respecting party democracy, he would seek to overturn the UK Labour policy of free movement at our next annual conference. Top down, policy by diktat rarely ends well," he added.

His comments were welcomed by independence supporters, highlighted by senior Tories and criticised by Scottish Labour politicians.

Gill Steelenson wrote: "Absolutely this. I’m an English bird who lives in Scotland and I support Scottish Independence in the EU.  We all saw how Ireland was central to the EU negotiations over Brexit, and we see Scotland told to shut up and put up by both Boris and Starmer."

Scottish Tory MSP Murdo Fraser drew attention to Lewis's comments saying: "Why Labour cannot be trusted on the Union: No. 139 of Series 2."

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Labour group leader on Glasgow city council Malcolm Cunning was furious with his party comrade.

"Comments like this from Labour Party comrades are less than supportive of the work and policies of Scottish Labour," he tweeted.

"You might want to consider that before pontificating on a subject you clearly need to swot up on.Your ill considered remarks are being retweeted by nationalists and Scottish Conservatives as a stick with which to beat Labour in Scotland. Was that your purpose or did you Tweet before thinking?"

READ MORE: Clive Lewis says Labour must not oppose indyref2

During last year's party leadership contest Lewis wrote exclusively for The National urging his party not to block a second independence referendum.

A shadow minister at the time, Lewis said people in Scotland should not be “dictated to” by MPs representing constituencies in England and that they should have the right to determine the form of government best suited to their needs. He also called for Scottish Labour to be fully autonomous from the UK party.

“It is little surprise ... that many Scots see themselves not as partners in a union of equal nations, but as a country shackled instead to a dysfunctional political system that is costing them dearly,” he said, pointing to the experience of Scots being governed by Conservative administrations they did not vote for.

The National:

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer on the Andrew Marr Show on January 10  Photo PA

Appearing on Marr yesterday Starmer dropped his promise to bring back free movement from the European Union.

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The Labour leader told the BBC he wanted to be honest and a major renegotiation of the Brexit deal would not be possible if he won a general election.

He said: "Whether we like it or not, that is going to be the treaty an incoming Labour government has to make work.

"It is not being straight with the public to say we can come into office and operate some other treaty."

Starmer restated he did not think there was a case for rejoining the EU.

He also defended ordering Labour MPs to back Boris Johnson's trade deal, but said he would try to improve it.

READ MORE: New infighting breaks out in Labour over Scottish independence referendum

Tensions have persisted in Labour for several years over its position on a second independence referendum.

In August 2019, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said Labour should not try to block a second vote on independence by withholding the legal powers to do so.

Interviewed by the broadcaster Iain Dale, McDonnell said: “We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy.”

McDonnell admitted Labour was split on the issue, but implied the UK leadership agreed. “There are other views within the party, but that’s our view,” he said.

Ahead of the 2019 general election the party tried to appeal to Yes voters with some independence activists campaigning for the party.

After the disastrous poll, when Labour was again left with a single MP in Scotland, several senior figures – including MSP Neil Findlay – called for the party not to oppose indyref2, even though they would continue to oppose independence.

The internal debate continued after the election with ultimately the pro-Union side winning the argument, a move reflected in Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar, who took a prominent role in the Better Together campaign, being appointed to the party's constitution frontbench portfolio.

Polls, however, suggest around 40% of Scottish Labour voters back independence.