LABOUR leadership candidate Andy Burnham has pledged to hand the Scottish party more autonomy within weeks – if he wins the fiercely contested race.

Mr Burnham said he would introduce the changes – in agreement with the

new leader of Scottish Labour – at September’s party conference in Brighton.

He wants to give the party autonomy on policy, candidate selection and party management, as he is determined to reset its relationship with the UK party to “ground zero”, if he wins the party leadership.

The Shadow Health Secretary wants to banish once and for all the damaging notion – claimed by ex-Scottish leader Johann Lamont when she resigned last year – that Scottish Labour is a “branch office” of the party in London.

“I want to act straight away,” he said. “I want the new arrangements to be in place this year before the Holyrood elections because it is crucial we make a fresh start and we give the new leader (in Scotland) the space, the flexibility and freedom that he or she needs to get off on the right foot and not to have that cloud hanging over them, that London is looming over their shoulder.”

The MP for Leigh, near Manchester, made clear he rejected the nationalist approach of creating a separate Scottish Labour Party, denouncing nationalism as an “ugly brand of politics based on separation and division”.

Mr Burnham, expected to launch his own manifesto in London early next week, said that while it was “a long road back” in Scotland, he had faith most Labour supporters who switched to the SNP were “prepared to give us another go and have not broken the bond forever”.

As left-winger Jeremy Corbyn gained more momentum, winning the support of another two trade unions, Mr Burnham insisted he was not panicking.

But he warned the party the contest is “not an internal pursuit” but about the lives of ordinary Britons.

He said: “It is no good making a choice that makes party members feel good and then loses another election.”

Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary and Labour’s sole MP in Scotland, backed Mr Burnham’s rival Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary.

The Edinburgh MP said: “The reason I am doing that is because I think Labour needs its first female prime minister but also Yvette has a lot of understanding of the situation in Scotland.”