HENRY McLeish has called for Labour to back single market membership as the party embarks on the first day of its Scottish Spring conference today.

The former First Minister welcomed the shift made by UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to support a customs union with the EU – a move he said will put pressure on Theresa May to soften her Brexit stance – but urged him to take “the next bold step”.

McLeish said support for single market membership would reflect the wishes of most Labour voters and trade unionists and help ensure the party was in tune with people in Scotland, which voted by 62 per cent to remain.

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He argued that such a stance would improve the standing of his party in Scotland as it would be more difficult for the SNP to position itself as the dominant pro-EU and single market voice.

“Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to negotiate a new customs union with the EU is to be warmly welcomed, a decision that increases the pressure on Theresa May to dump the political baggage that is dragging her under.

“Staying in or around the single market should be the next bold step,” he said. “This step forward is also important for Labour in Scotland.

“A hard Tory Brexit or a weak Labour campaign to prevent this would have strengthened the position of the SNP government, who are understandably pro EU. Scots voters wanted to remain. This battle isn’t over. The closer Labour remains to the EU, then the more difficult it is for the SNP to exploit the issue.

“That is why retaining membership of the single market and the customs union is such an important part of any political strategy for Scotland.”

He added: “Britain must remain in the European Union or as a minimum retain membership of both the Single market and the Customs Union. This is also, the only answer to the Ireland question, despite the rants of Boris Johnson.”

New Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is expected to come under pressure over his stance on Brexit when the party meets in Dundee for its three day conference.

Former leader Kezia Dugale, Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray and MEP Catherine Stihler launched the Scottish Labour for the Single Market campaign group earlier this month and Brexit is due to be debated by delegates on Sunday morning.

SNP MSP George Adam said: “Brexit isn’t a sideshow. It’s the single biggest political issue of the day, and the clock is ticking for the UK to avoid crashing out of the single market – hitting jobs and ordinary people in the pocket. It’s time Labour backed our efforts to stop a hard Tory Brexit in its tracks.”