Kezia Dugdale would allow indyref 'free vote'

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Media captionKezia Dugdale says she would not stop MSPs campaigning for independence

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has said she would not stop MPs and MSPs campaigning for independence if there was another referendum.

Ms Dugdale told BBC Scotland she would not "shut down" debate on the issue within Scottish Labour.

Her comments came after former leader Johann Lamont said Labour should consider having a "free vote" in any future independence referendum.

Ms Dugdale said she had "tremendous respect" for this position.

Labour joined the Tories and the Lib Dems to campaign against independence in the run-up to last year's referendum, which resulted in a "No" vote.

However, the party suffered a massive defeat at the general election in May, when it was reduced to just one MP.

Ms Lamont, who was Scottish Labour leader during the referendum campaign, told BBC Scotland that "on balance" she believed it was right to join the Conservatives in the Better Together campaign.

But she said Labour should have had a better resourced and more energetic campaign of its own.

The former leader, speaking as part of a series of BBC Scotland interviews to mark the anniversary of the referendum, said it was "self-evident" that some people within the Labour movement had accepted that Scotland could be independent.

Responding to the comments on BBC Scotland's Sunday Politics, Ms Dugdale said she did not think a second referendum was "inevitable" and insisted "Yes" supporters could "have a home in the Scottish Labour Party".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Johann Lamont said Labour members had voted for independence

She said: "I want people who voted both Yes and No to see that the Labour party is the vehicle for progressive change in this country, which is why I am completely comfortable and, in fact, would encourage people who voted Yes in the past to take a look at our party and see that it has changed."

When asked if Labour's MP and MSPs should be allowed to campaign against party policy, as they did in the 1979 devolution referendum, Ms Dugdale said: "Yes. Many Labour members, in fact almost 30% of Labour party supporters, voted Yes. We know that now from all the evidence and I respect that.

"I'm not going to shut down my party's renewal and debate in my party because people hold a different position on independence."

She added: "If somebody holds that view on the question of independence, I'm not going to try to shut down the debate."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "For the leader of a party supposedly committed to safeguarding Scotland's place within the United Kingdom it beggars belief that Kezia Dugdale should now be giving her support to Labour MSPs and activists who want to campaign for independence.

"As a result of her statement, the position of the Scottish Labour party on this most vital of issues has been plunged into complete confusion and Kezia Dugdale must explain her apparent u-turn immediately."

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said: "These comments are a tacit admission that allying with the Tories against Scottish independence has been disastrous for the Labour Party in Scotland."

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