A FORMER Scottish Labour MEP has told his party they will be doomed to “continue in third place at best” in Holyrood if they ignore the debate on independence.

David Martin spoke out after Labour had their worst ever result in a Holyrood election winning just 22 seats, two behind their 2016 tally when they lost their position to the Tories as the second largest opposition party.

Writing on the Labour List website, Martin urged the party to come up swiftly with a compelling position on the constitution arguing the leadership of Anas Sarwar was not sufficient to rebuild.

He outlined his own preference for an arrangement where all powers are devolved to Edinburgh with only defence policy reserved to Westminster.

He called this model “independence within the UK” and said that under it (defence issues aside) Westminster would not have any powers of veto on any area of Scottish life.

“If Scottish Labour relies on competent leadership alone to solve its problems, then it is doomed, at best, to remain the third force in Scottish politics.

"If it truly wants to be ‘back on the pitch’, it must have something concrete to offer on the constitution,” he wrote.

READ MORE: Labour peer's attempt to mock Nicola Sturgeon's Cabinet backfires

“There can now be little doubt that the crunch point for indyref2 will come in the next three or four years.

“Labour will have an important decision to make, which will not only decide our electoral fortunes but the future of the country.

"Labour can back the Tories in attempting to block the referendum and compound the damage Better Together did to its relations with its former core vote, or it can support the nationalists and risk alienating those who supported Labour as a way of keeping the UK together. Alternatively, to coin a phrase, it could offer a third way.”

He added: “The third way can’t simply be a beefed up version of the vow, a new Calman commission or Smith commission, ‘devo max’, ‘devo plus’ or even home rule ... The majority of Scots now want greater control over their lives.

“A radical way to achieve this, and come as close as any proposal can to uniting the country, is to offer independence within the UK.

“This would be independence without separation. Scotland would become a completely sovereign nation with total power over its domestic laws, services and taxation.

“There would be no border for goods, services, capital or Labour. Defence would remain a UK-wide function with Scotland making a contribution to this and other common services.”

He continued: “The two sides would have to reach agreement but, potentially, such an arrangement would provide a solution to the issues of currency, pensions and border posts.

“It probably wouldn’t be feasible for Scotland to rejoin the EU but it would open the door for its participation in such things as the Erasmus programme. This is not a variation of devolution. Westminster would have no vetoes.”

Labour did not respond to a request for a comment, while the SNP described Martin’s idea as “tinkering” with the constitution.

Mhairi Black, the SNP’s Shadow Scotland Secretary, said: “At the Holyrood election, the people of Scotland delivered a cast-iron mandate for a second independence referendum and made clear that Scotland’s future must be in Scotland’s hands.

“However, these proposals would continue to let the Westminster Tory government drag Scotland in the wrong direction.

“It also states that Scotland would not be able to rejoin the EU despite Scotland voting overwhelmingly in favour of membership – forcing Scotland to continue to suffer from the damaging impact of an extreme Tory Brexit.

“Scotland doesn’t need constitutional tinkering – we need independence.”

Martin was the UK’s longest serving MEP until he lost his seat in 2019 in the European Parliament after 35 years.

In 2016 he was appointed by the First Minister as a member of the Scottish Government’s standing council on Europe. After losing his seat in Brussels Martin was appointed as co-convener of the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland.

During the election campaign Scottish Labour sought not to get involved in the constitutional debate insisting that the focus for the current parliament should be solely on the pandemic and recovery from it.

The side stepping of the issue was picked up on in the Channel 4 leaders’ debate with the host telling Sarwar to stay out of the discussion if he had nothing to say.