ANAS Sarwar is under pressure to drop his opposition to a second independence referendum as it emerged a string of Labour candidates have backed a new vote.

At least six of the party's contenders have spoken out in favour of indyref2 in recent months, while UK party leader Sir Keir Starmer has refused to rule out his agreeing to the vote should he become prime minister.

In an interview on the BBC's Marr this morning the Scottish Labour leader was asked if he supports Scots' right to choose their own future.

"Absolutely it is for the Scottish people to choose their own future and that's why this election is so important," replied Sarwar.

"What I'm saying which is differentiating from both the SNP and the Tories are saying is that I am recognising that this is a pandemic election, I am recognising that these aren't normal times."

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The Scottish Labour manifesto, published last Thursday, ruled out a new referendum over the next parliamentary term.

It was published a day after the STUC backed a second vote if the election results in a majority of pro-independence MSPs.

Presenter Andrew Marr pointed out to Sarwar that at least three Labour candidates were in favour of another referendum, while on Sky News presenter Sophie Ridge put quotes from several pro-referendum Labour candidates to him.

Marr said the five years of the parliamentary term was an "arbitrary" timetable to oppose indyref2 and suggested Labour was avoiding the fundamental constitutional issue.

Sarwar said people were voting for a parliament and what they want its priorities to be over the next five year period.

He would not say what position he would take if there is a pro-independence majority in Holyrood after the election in on May 6.

"I'm a participant in this election, I am not going to commentate on the result," he said.

"I have 11 days to try and persuade people across Scotland to choose something different."

He was pressed on comments made by Labour's leader in Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford's that if Plaid Cymru won the election there it would be mandate for an independence referendum.

"Why is it right for the Welsh but not the Scots?" asked Marr.

Sarwar said he hoped there would be a Welsh Labour government but would not be drawn on the referendum issue there either.

He also did not comment on Scottish Labour candidates making previous comments in support of indyref2.

A press release issued by the Conservatives - which one poll today pointed to the party moving into third place in the Scottish Parliament after the ballot - said at least six Labour candidates backing a second independence vote.

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They include: 

* Dundee City West candidate Mercedes Villalba. She said on Twitter on January 20 this year: "If we're truly not content with the status quo, hadn't we better call for a referendum to put our alternative to the people?"

* Edinburgh Central candidate Maddy Kirkman supports the Scottish Parliament having the power to call a referendum. In response to a question asking if she supports Scotland’s right to self-determination, she tweeted on November 6 last year: "I have pushed, and will continue to push, within the party, for the right call a referendum to sit with the Scottish Parliament. I have the backing of local members in this regard and it will remain my position."

* Scottish Labour Rutherglen candidate Martin Lennon has said the party needs to change their approach on a second referendum. In response to a tweet saying that Scottish Labour will oppose indyref2 until 2026 Lennon in a tweet in November 18 last year: "Why does anyone think this is a good idea? What world are Labour MSPs living in. Most people in Scotland now support independence. Most people support a referendum."

* Dundee City East candidate Owen Wright has said it would help Labour to back a second referendum. He tweeted on January 18 this year: "I wouldn’t go as far as 'pro independence' and supporting yes being a requirement but definitely being in favour of second indyref would help bring back voters to our party."

*Edinburgh Northern and Leith candidate Katrina Faccenda believes the right to call an independence referendum should sit with the Scottish Parliament. She tweeted last October: "We need the Power to Call a Referendum."

* Lothian candidate Nick Ward tweeted on January 18 this year: "I do not think that acknowledging the right to self determination and accepting that if a majority in the parliament wants a second referendum is a silly position. Sorry to disagree on this one."

During the Marr programme Sarwar avoided questions about Labour candidates who support indyref2.

SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown said: "New leader, but the same old undemocratic stance from Labour. Anas Sarwar is utterly out of touch with many of his own supporters, trade unions, and even some of his own candidates over the basic tenets of democracy and people's right to choose their own future.

"Rather than letting the people of Scotland decide what kind of recovery they want to build after the pandemic, a vote for Labour means leaving the key decisions about Scotland’s future in the hands of Boris Johnson and the Tories. 

“This is a crucial moment in our country’s history - and when the crisis of the pandemic has passed, the people of Scotland should have the right to decide if they want to choose a better future with independence to help drive the recovery.

"Only both votes SNP will put Scotland's future in Scotland's hands - not Boris Johnson's."

Scottish Conservative candidate for Glasgow Annie Wells used the Scottish Labour candidates' positions to argue that the party is "still determined to sit on the fence over another referendum".

She added: "They can’t be trusted to oppose indyref2. Several Labour candidates would back a referendum right now and in the future, it’s clear that even more could give in to the SNP and support it."

UK Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has refused to rule out backing another independence referendum if he becomes Prime Minister. 

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In an interview last month Starmer said: "At the moment, I think the focus has to absolutely be on the recovery. Therefore if I was PM, I would be working across all four nations on the recovery."

But added: "If there’s a majority it’s got to be looked at in Westminster."

Sarwar was elected Scottish Labour leader in February on a platform which opposed a second referendum, beating fellow MSP Monica Lennon who had put forward a more open view on indyref2, while opposing independence.

Labour sources point to the candidates' views being expressed ahead of the position on indyref2 being spelt out in the party's manifesto published on Thursday.

Scottish Labour shadow Secretary of State Ian Murray said: “This is desperate stuff from a Tory party in crisis.

“Scottish Labour is unequivocal in its opposition to a second referendum.

“The Conservatives are obsessed with the old arguments and more division, when this election should be about a national recovery. They make the point perfectly for us.

“For a Parliament focused on solutions, use both votes for Scottish Labour this election.”