Plea for more tolerance in indy debate

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FORMER First Minister Henry McLeish has called for more tolerance in the independence debate and urged Labour to stop “hating” Alex Salmond and the SNP.

He issued his plea as he spoke at a fringe debate at the Scottish Labour conference alongside Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran and Allan Grogan, leader of Labour for Independence.

Mr McLeish argued the UK was a “union in decline” and said he was disappointed the latest Labour plan for further devolution did not go further.

He said he knew nothing about Labour for Independence, which some party activists have dismissed as an SNP front organisation, but he said: “We need to be a party that is tolerant of dissident voices.

“We don’t want to be known as a party that cannot brook discussion, however much it makes us uncomfortable or makes us think about things that we don’t want to think about.

“And a genuine concern I have is ‘let’s stop hating Salmond and the SNP’.”

Mr Grogan said it was a “great honour” to speak at a conference fringe of a party whose leader has described his movement as “a joke that you might see in the furthest fringes of the Edinburgh Fringe”.

He said Labour For Independence consisted of people who felt the party had left them and not the other way around, including councillors, former Lord Provosts and former chairs of the Scottish Labour Party.

He said: “We believe in the ideals and principles of the Labour Party, but we also believe that independence is the best way forward for Scotland.”

Ms Curran said: “It’s nice to meet Allan Grogan because I’ve been a member of Labour for 38 years and I’ve never actually met him.

“There’s two great deceits being perpetrated in this debate, and we have heard them from Allan and I am a bit disappointed that we have heard them from Henry too.

“And that is somehow that this is a debate between the status quo and independence. It is absolutely not. Those of us voting no, those working in the Labour are arguing for a changed Scotland and Britain.

“The other great deceit is that somehow that the fight for equality is finished in Britain, which it most certainly isn’t, but also perhaps that somehow independence will give us equality.”