A LEADING candidate for the post of Scottish Labour deputy leader has thrown down a challenge to his opponents that the party must fully embrace devolution and be open to discussions about full fiscal autonomy.

Alex Rowley, the MSP for Cowdenbeath and the former shadow spokesman for local government, said Labour needed to turn the political debate around and focus on what powers should stay at Westminster, rather than on what powers should come to Holyrood.

“The powers that come with Smith need to be delivered to the letter and we need to make sure that happens, and post-Smith – as I don’t see Smith as the end of devolution – we need to take that agenda forward. Rather than arguing for what powers should come from Westminster to

Scotland, we should instead be arguing what powers should be kept at Westminster,” he told The National.

Rowley, a close ally of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a former general secretary of the Scottish Labour party, sensationally quit his frontbench role last month following Jim Murphy’s failure to stand down after the devastating General Election defeat.

He has since drawn up a strategy for the future of the party, arguing for it to become independent from UK Labour. He has also written a discussion paper on the subject, calling for a new “Labour Scotland” to become the party of Home Rule.

“Labour Scotland needs to lead the agenda in terms of devolution and we can’t lead the agenda when we continually have to check with UK Labour about what we can or cannot say. An autonomous Scottish Labour party would be driving the agenda in Scotland,” he said.

“Our focus should be on what powers we need for success as a nation, and then argue for those based on that premise. We need to set that out in our 2016 manifesto agenda.”

“We should not be talking Scotland down and telling Scotland what it can’t have. Post-Smith we need to have an open discussion, including about full fiscal autonomy.”

However, Rowley denied his position amounted to a split from the UK party.

He said: “I want to work in a devolved country in a strong Scottish Parliament but remain in the UK and have an autonomous Scottish Labour party which is setting the agenda in Scotland for Scotland. There is a big difference in that and breaking away from the Labour party in the UK. I am not arguing for a breakaway party and I think people who interpret my position in that way are trying to muddy the waters.”

Rowley’s views are likely to be popular among grassroots Labour members – many of whom were opposed to the party standing alongside the Conservatives in the Better Together alliance.

Rowley, a former leader of Fife Council, is among three candidates who declared their intention to stand for the deputy leadership yesterday.

The others are Labour MSP Richard Baker and Gordon Matheson, the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council.

Last night party members welcomed Rowley’s stance.

“Alex is a serious politician and deep thinker who recognises the serious trouble the party is in and is giving some clear answers about how it should move forward,” said one.

Another added: “I like what Alex Rowley is saying. His views may alienate some, but get the support of others. He is also the only politician who appears to be coming up with something fresh, something apart from ‘we need to listen to what people are saying’.”

Meanwhile, in the party’s leadership contest almost three-quarters of Scottish Labour’s parliamentarians have backed Kezia Dugdale to be their next leader as nominations for the post officially open.

Dugdale, who has submitted her resignation as deputy leader, now has the support of 27 MSPs as well as Labour’s only Scottish MP Ian Murray and the party’s two MEPs David Martin and Catherine Stihler. She faces competition from Eastwood MSP Ken Macintosh for the post vacated by Jim Murphy.

Rowley is among the group of MSPs to throw their weight behind Dugdale, as is party finance spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, culture spokeswoman Claire Baker, chief whip Neil Bibby and parliamentary business manager James Kelly.

Dugdale said: “Politics in Scotland has changed fundamentally and the Scottish Labour Party have only one chance to get it right. But this leadership election isn’t just about transforming Scottish Labour, it is about stepping up and regaining the trust of the people of Scotland.”

The scale of the challenge facing Labour in Scotland was also reflected in membership figures obtained by the New Statesman. The magazine reported yesterday that the party had around13,000 members north of the Border, about a tenth the size of the SNP membership.