A SENIOR trade union activist who has made clear she is open to Scotland having a second independence referendum has secured a victory in the Unite general secretary contest.

Sharon Graham, 52, will become the union's first female leader beating frontrunner Steve Turner, who was backed by Len McCluskey, and a third candidate Gerard Coyne.

Graham secured 46,696 votes, Turner 41,833 and Coyne 35,334.

Her victory will be awkward for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, both of whom back a policy of opposing independence and a second referendum.

READ MORE: Blow for Sarwar as Unite candidate signals Scottish Labour funding may end

Graham was the only candidate to publish a Scotland Ireland Wales dedicated section in her manifesto and raised the possibility of ending the political levy to Scottish Labour in the document.

It says: "If elected general secretary, to give our members in Scotland more power to make decisions that are best for them, I will:

"- Prioritise delivering a fully resourced, comprehensive industrial strategy for Scotland.

"- Ensure that political decision-making will be fully devolved, including contributions from the political fund."

The move to review political funding would be a massive blow to the party as the Unite trade union is the party's biggest donor.

It raises the possibility that Unite members under her leadership could switch their political fund donations to the pro-independence SNP or Scottish Greens, or give some funding to each of the parties as well as Labour.

READ MORE: All nominees for top job at Unite union back Scotland's right to indyref2

Earlier today a source in Graham's campaign told Sky News today she was "confident the result will turn out to be for her".

In a text message to supporters, Turner said: "It appears that Sharon has got it! Count is tomorrow but from the sorting today that's clear that's the case and Coyne is last!"

A source on the Coyne campaign has also admitted Graham's victory was highly likely: "It was close at the start but her lead has now been consistent for two days. She has run an effective under-the-radar operation."

In an interview with the Herald last month, Graham said it was "ridiculous" for Westminster to stand in the way of a second independence referendum.

Graham said Scottish self-determination is "absolutely critical" and insisted the trade union's membership would decide its position on independence. 

She said the trade union's political decisions relating to Scotland should be devolved to the Scottish membership. 

She said: "For me, self-determination of Scotland is absolutely critical and I support it. The idea that Westminster thinks that they can decide whether or not Scotland is allowed to have a vote on its own course is totally inappropriate. Self-determination has to happen by the people of Scotland in Scotland.

"I don't live in Scotland. I don't have a right to have a view on whether there should be independence or not independence in Scotland.

"But what I would do as the general secretary of Unite the union, is my members would make that decision."

She added: "I think what is ridiculous is that Westminster could even be saying, 'We are going to tell you if you are allowed to.'

"I mean, that is just not acceptable. If I was in Scotland and I was listening to that, I would actually be incandescent, frankly.

"Because how can Westminster tell you, the people of Scotland, what you're allowed and not allowed to do as far as the referendum is concerned?"

Graham's pledge to devolve political decisions to the membership includes those relating to the funding provided to Scottish Labour.

Asked if she accepted this could see the party's funding reduced or stopped, Graham said she did not expect "anything huge" to change. 

She added: "But if that's what came out of that democratic decision, then I would abide by it."

The National:

Asked what she made of Sarwar and his time in charge, she said: "The political terrain has changed in Scotland. It's changed in a huge way.

"It's almost like we're going on as though it hasn't changed. Talking about Labour in Scotland – I think people just glaze over when you start to do it.

"Because where is Labour in Scotland? It isn't in Scotland, let's face it. When you look 20 years ago with the number of seats that Labour had in Scotland versus where we are now.

"If I was Labour, wherever they are, I would start now – stop playing silly games, trying to trip people up. Let's talk about what is happening to working people in this country and the communities."

Graham had resisted pressure from others on the union's left to withdraw from the contest and support Turner. She called McCluskey's endorsement of him "desperate".

Earlier in the campaign she hit out at what she claimed was Turner's sense of entitlement: "There is a man running who thinks it's his turn to be the next general secretary," she said.

Her campaign team believe Turner and his supporters were complacent: "They downed tools a fortnight ago. They thought it was in the bag."

Graham's allies believe her core message - "to stop the obsession with Labour and focus fully and squarely on the worker" - chimed with union members.

Unite has 1.2 million members and is the Labour Party's biggest donor. 

Graham has previously said there will be "no blank cheque" for Sir Keir Starmer if she becomes general secretary, but "if Labour do what they're supposed to do to defend workers they will have no problem with me".

She is a veteran of Unite workplace disputes and high-stakes negotiations, including protecting tens of thousands of British Airways workers from the threat of "fire and rehire" last year.

After being subjected to online criticism for staying in the race, she said: "Like any bully in a workplace, I don't take much notice of it... I'm a tough cookie."

She has described the union as "quite male" and "boysey", claimed she knows "what it's like to have glass ceilings" and argued "there are some times where actually other people get promoted over you".

Graham has also made clear she backs “self-determination” and that the policy on independence and indyref2 should be decided by the organisation's membership in Scotland.