LEADING SNP MP Tommy Sheppard has called for a second independence referendum to be "parked" pending the outcome of Brexit negotiations, in a dramatic intervention that breaks ranks with the party's leadership.

Sheppard said the party had to regain its "radical cutting edge" if it was to rebuild support following its General Election losses of 21 seats.

He said the SNP haemorrhaged support to Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity among pro-independence voters.

Loading article content

Sheppard said the SNP was in "danger of being seen as the establishment" after a decade in power at Holyrood.

The Edinburgh East MP said Corbyn's radical left-wing programme had attracted many of those who voted Yes in 2014.

Writing exclusively for the Sunday Herald ahead of tomorrow's Brexit talks beginning, Sheppard says: "The election result changes everything. Now the single market is back on the table, now we can argue for separate Scottish arrangements, now there is a prospect of repatriation of powers from Brussels direct to Holyrood to a maximal rather than minimal extent. There is a point to fighting for all of this - and some of it we will win. This means that the outcome of Brexit may be a lot different than the one we were heading for in March. Amidst the current chaos in Westminster it seems certain that a hard Brexit is now off the table, and the possibility of bespoke solutions for nations and regions is growing.

"It follows, therefore, that it is now an option to wait until the Brexit negotiations conclude before forming a view on whether the extent of change justifies a second independence referendum as a result. This would mean that whilst a second referendum remains an option, the timetable gets parked."

The First Minister has previously said she would set out the way forward on a second referendum "in due course after talking to people across the SNP". The SNP's new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, made clear in an interview with the Sunday Herald that independence was still on the table.

Sheppard's remarks come just days after he ditched a bid to lead the SNP at Westminster after admitting he did not have "majority support". He also unsuccessfully stood to be SNP deputy leader last year.

Sheppard also writes that the Tory campaign opposing a second referendum had "paid off" with Conservatives winning 13 seats in Scotland. Sheppard said that former SNP supporters who like Brexit had also decamped to the Tories.

However, he added: "Brexit and Indyref2 are dwarfed by the main factor at play in this election: Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour manifesto".

Sheppard said the SNP had lost seats to Labour among those who voted Yes in 2014 and who backed his party in recent elections.

"We lost most votes from people who felt Corbyn was more radical than us," Sheppard said about Labour gaining six seats from the SNP.

He added: “I know a number of people who voted Yes in 2014, SNP in 2015 (and 2016) and who voted Labour last week. They haven’t necessarily changed their mind on independence, but they see no incompatibility between supporting a left party in UK elections and voting for independence in Scotland.”

The MP, who is an ex-Scottish Labour official, said his former party now posed a real threat to the SNP in further Westminster seats due to Corbyn's popularity.

Sheppard went onto say that the SNP should begin remaking the case for independence and winning support for it that is "not conditional on Brexit".

Last night senior Labour politicians at Westminster and Holyrood welcomed Sheppard's remarks. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: "Labour's manifesto sent a message to many people who had left us that the party was a radical and socialist party once again and it was right to come home to Labour."

Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley said: "Tommy Sheppard is absolutely right that independence referendum two should be taken off the table.

"Labour's manifesto demonstrated that if you want a more just society that the only party offering that whether you voted Yes or No in 2014 is Labour.

"Many people on the doorstep who supported independence in 2014, and still do, said they wanted a second referendum taken off the table. Leaving it on the table is just playing into Ruth Davidson's hands."

Last night, an SNP spokesman, in response to Sheppard, restated that the party had won the most Scottish seats at Westminster.

He said: "With Brexit negotiations set to begin this Monday, the election has made it clear that the hard right Brexit stance pursued by the Tory party does not carry public support.

“The SNP won the election in Scotland, with more seats than any other party. But we have made clear that we will take time to reflect on the best way forward for the country.”

Meanwhile, prominent SNP MEP Alyn Smith has called on the party to do more to promote the 'Independence in Europe' platform that it first embraced in the late 1980s when it abandoned the Eurosceptic stance it held previously.

Smith said the party's fortunes were transformed when it shifted its position towards supporting Scotland's continued membership of the European Community – the forerunner of the EU.

The MEP said the move later led to the party becoming more professional and slick in the 1990s under the leadership of Alex Salmond.

However, Smith said that parts of the SNP had now become "lukewarm" about the EU.

He said that despite Nicola Sturgeon playing a major role in last year's Remain campaign, some SNP members did not see it as central to the case for independence.

Smith said: "EU membership is absolutely core to our values, lets be a bit more full throttle about that."