SCOTTISH Labour was last night plunged into civil war after deputy leader Alex Rowley called on the party to ditch its Unionist stance in a dramatic break with the “narrow” ideology which has come to define it.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald, he said the shift was urgently needed if Labour in Scotland was ever to recover from the stark decline that has left it facing electoral oblivion and an existential crisis.

In a seismic intervention that will send shockwaves through the party, Rowley said Scottish Labour had to replace its Unionist stance with an avowedly Socialist and pro-home rule platform.

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He said the “status quo” of a Union dominated by Westminster and Whitehall could not deliver the radical social and economic change that left-of-centre Scots want to see.

Putting him totally at odds with Kezia Dugdale, Rowley added, “I have never considered myself a Unionist” – and called on Labour to abandon the stance he said was heavily associated with the Tories.

Dugdale earlier this year declared that she had been “proud to vote No” in 2014 as she made a forthright defence of her Unionist credentials in an interview with the right-wing Daily Telegraph that ran with a headline: “Kezia Dugdale attacks Ruth Davidson and declares she is a ‘proud’ Unionist.”

In the interview, Dugdale said: “I was proud to vote No, I would vote No again. There’s absolutely no question of my credibility on the issue of the Union.”

However, Rowley said that the backing for Unionism meant many pro-independence, left-wing Scots associated Labour with the Tories, whose full name is “Scottish Conservative and Unionist”.

The Fife MSP suggested the Labour Party he joined more than 30 years ago was not dominated by a Unionist ideology, but had embraced it after the rise of the independence movement.

Rowley’s intervention represents the starkest acceptance by a senior figure in Scottish Labour that the party’s championing of Unionism has made it toxic in the eyes of many voters north of the Border.

It also puts Rowley, who backed Jeremy Corbyn in UK Labour’s bitter leadership contest, on a collision course with Dugdale, who voted for Owen Smith in September’s election.

Rowley said: “I have been a member of the Labour Party since I was in my teens, more than 30 years, and I have never considered myself a Unionist, and yet Scottish politics has, since the independence referendum, been increasingly defined in terms of these narrow ideologies of Unionism and Nationalism and sadly this is how political parties in Scotland are viewed.

“The Tories have always been Unionists, the clue is in the name Conservative and Unionist and the SNP similarly are for nationalism, and their ultimate objective of independence something Nicola Sturgeon says ‘transcends Brexit, oil and the economy’.”

Rowley ruled out support for an independent Scotland, but argued that Scottish Labour had to fully embrace a federal UK or home rule if it was ever to attract the support of pro-independence Scots.

He said: “I do not think Scottish Labour can accept that Nationalist ideology is more important than our commitment to reducing inequality, developing our economy and fighting for social justice.

“Just as we cannot accept that the status quo in the form of Westminster and Whitehall can deliver the kind of society that we want to achieve for our country and the rest of the UK.

“Labour is neither Unionist nor Nationalist.

He added: “Of course we cannot duck the constitutional question, we must set a clear vision for Scotland in the 21st Century, but we cannot allow that vision to be dictated to by the narrow ideologies of Unionism and Nationalism, neither of which offer an answer to the social and economic challenges of our time.

“What Labour must do now is set out its vision of a post-Brexit Scotland which will include home rule within a confederal United Kingdom, building for the future on the Socialist ideals of equality, fairness and justice.”

Chris Stephens, the SNP MP for Glasgow South West, welcomed Rowley’s call for Scottish Labour to ditch the Unionist label.

Stephens, the SNP’s trade union and workers' rights spokesman at Westminster, said: “There are members of the Labour Party who voted Yes in September 2014. The Labour Party shouldn’t be a Unionist party and should move away from the hardline Unionist rhetoric of the Tories.”

However, a Scottish Labour spokesperson, who denied there was a split between Dugdale and Rowley, said: “Every Scottish Labour MSP is united in opposition to a second independence referendum. And, as Kezia and Alex have both said, following the Brexit vote there is a big debate to be had about powers coming back to either Westminster or Scotland.

“As Kezia said in a speech earlier this month, we will play our full part in discussions about renewing our United Kingdom, and as Alex points out, the Tories and the SNP have no interest in positively binding our country together. We are the only party that doesn’t just believe in the United Kingdom, but believes in it as the best way to redistribute power and wealth across these islands.

“Any suggestion that Labour MSPs are at odds on this is factually inaccurate.”