A SCOTTISH Labour grandee has called for groundwork to be laid for an “unthinkable” Holyrood coalition between his party and the SNP.

Veteran MEP David Martin said the time has come for the two main parties of Scotland’s centre-left to put their differences over the independence referendum to one side and focus on common ground issuessuch as health, education and, increasingly, tax.

Mr Martin, whose pitch was given a warm welcome by his SNP colleague in the European Parliament Alyn Smith, said he sensed the early signs of warming relations between SNP and Labour some four years ahead of the next Scottish General Election.

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Speaking in Strasbourg, he said: “We are far away from the next Holyrood elections but I think the ground work should be being laid now for a potential SNP Labour coalition that to many will seem unthinkable.”

His remarks come after the Conservatives, buoyed at the polls by a more muscular form of Unionism than Labour, emerged as Scotland’s second party at both Holyrood and Westminster.

But Mr Martin was also speaking as the respective SNP and Labour first ministers of Scotland and Wales, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, forged an alliance to press the interests of the devolved administrations at Brexit.

Labour, SNP and Plaid MEPs from Scotland and Wales have been working closely on Brexit for some time. Labour and SNP councillors, including in Edinburgh, have also formed coalitions, while both parties have signalled that local authority deals with the Conservatives are toxic.

David Martin MEP

HeraldScotland: Labour MEP David Martin

Contrastingly, Labour has suspended councillors who forged an anti-SNP administration in Aberdeen with Tories.

However, the Conservatives have been quick to seize on any prospect of a parliamentary alignment between the SNP and Labour: an eye-catching Tory campaign poster in the 2015 Westminster elections depicted Ed Miliband inside Alex Salmond’s pocket.

Mr Martin acknowledged his calls may seem premature but he said the fact such a pact appeared unthinkable after the bitterness of the independence vote three years ago was“why the groundwork needs to start right now”.

He suggested the kind of cooperation seen between the SNP and Welsh Labour could be extended north of the border thanks to new shared concern about Brexit and its consequences.

He said: “There are signals, very weak signals, that the real hate – and it was hate – between Labour and the SNP is beginning to weaken.

“I would not quite say there is a rapprochement but there is more possibility of cooperation and working together than there has been in a long time. “Being on the same side in the Brexit referendum has actually helped that.”

Mr Martin is not suggesting an alliance between the two parties, but that they should recognise common ground just in case parliamentary numbers in 2021 fail to give either a majority.

Mr Martin added: “I think we have to seriously look at cooperating with one another.

“Particularly following Nicola Sturgeons’s state of Scotland address, I think there is a lot of common ground.

“She is considering using the tax-raising power and accepting the need to channel more in to health and education and so on.”

Asked if he thought Scottish politics was too tribalistic, Mr Martin said: “I think it is.”

He compared the ‘fall-out’ between Labour and the SNP with traditional factionalism infighting among Trotskyites.

Mr Martin has spent more than 30 years steeped in the European Parliament’s culture of compromise and alliance-building.

He was speaking a day after EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker praised Europe’s tradition of compromise, often seen as a weakness rather than a strength. Mr Juncker said: “We must first change the mind-set that for some to win others must lose.

“Democracy is about compromise. And the right compromise makes winners out of everyone.”

Mr Martin echoed those sentiments, saying “compromise is not a dirty word”.

The SNP’s Alyn Smith MEP, also an experienced cross-party coalition-builder in Europe, stressed Scotland’s left should stand together in the face of what he sees as a centralising post-Brexit threat to Devolution.

He said: “This is a very welcome intervention by Scotland’s longest-serving MEP.

“I don’t think an SNP-Labour coalition is unthinkable.

“Indeed, such a coalition currently runs Scotland’s capital.

“Brexit is going to tear up the devolution settlement written by Donald Dewar and endorsed by the people of Scotland.

“That is why the progressive side of politics needs to circle the wagons to protect Scotland from a Tory onslaught that has barely started.”

Alyn Smith MEP

HeraldScotland: Photograph of the Author

An SNP spokesman said: “While we are always open to cooperating with other parties based on shared values, Labour remain obsessed with attacking the SNP instead of standing up to the Tories and their disastrous plans for an extreme Brexit.”

Scottish Labour said:  "We do not support a deal, pact or coalition with the SNP - we plan on replacing the Nationalists as the next Scottish government."