Left-winger Neil Findlay fired off a series of sarcastic internal messages amid a row over which party MSPs would get to speak in the highly-charged debate.
He mockingly wrote that he was clearly one of the “weakest and most irrelevant” MSPs and emailed colleagues about attending a spoof “assertiveness and public speaking course”.
Loading article content
An SNP spokesperson: "This is very embarrassing for Kezia Dugdale. Faced with a hugely significant political event, her MSPs are fighting like ferrets in a sack.
If Labour spent even half as much time fighting Tory cuts as they did fighting each other, perhaps they would not be in the sorry state that they’re in.”
The Scottish Parliament set aside around two days of chamber time in March to debate whether Holyrood should request the right to stage a second plebiscite.
The SNP and the Tories have taken consistent positions on the constitution, but independence has posed problems for Labour.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale famously suggested last year that it was “not inconceivable” she could back independence to secure Scotland’s European Union membership, but the party has since hardened its opposition to another referendum.
Emails show that Findlay, a supporter of UK leader Jeremy Corbyn, was annoyed with party bosses in the run up to the debate after it appeared that prized speaking slots had already been filled.
In an email to all Labour MSPs, he wrote: “I know many colleagues would have wanted to speak but our slots were taken before the call for speakers even went out meaning – those who didn’t have the mystical powers to know this is how slots were being allocated were excluded.”
MSP James Kelly, a Dugdale loyalist and the party’s business manager, responded by saying there was “nothing mystical” about the allocation and “people started bidding for slots as soon as the debate was known”.
He added: “In the circumstances, I acted to ensure that we had the strongest and most relevant line up.”
However, this comment rattled Findlay, who shot back: “Thanks for that James and confirmation if I needed it I am one of the weakest and most irrelevant but then again I have known that for some time.”
Twenty-fours hours later, Findlay returned to the same theme in a withering email to Labour MSPs:
“Hi comrades - do you want to become less of a wallflower? Would you like to be less weak and irrelevant? Would you like see your good self rise up the party managers' popularity chart (good books)? Are you desperate to be popular amongst your peers?
“Then why not come along to an assertiveness and public speaking course? Well...I tried to arrange one but when I went to book the room the person hung up on me.”
Findlay, who did make a speech in the eventual debate, signed off his email as “Yours in irrelevance”.
A Labour source told the Herald that senior party figures wanted “on message” MSPs speaking in the debate and added that Findlay’s emails were a reaction against “control freakery”.
A Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “We don't comment on internal party matters.”