RICHARD Leonard as been forced to U-turn on plans to hold a special conference to discuss his party's stance on a second independence referendum.

Proposals, which were discussed yesterday during a Scottish Labour Party executive committee (SEC) meeting, are understood to have been roundly rejected by many attendees, at odds with the views of the party leader.

Sources told the Herald on Sunday there was "no support" for the idea when it was raised yesterday afternoon, with the SEC now committing to holding an away day to "explore how to better sell federalism" instead.

Others said the outcome was "utterly humiliating", "a complete mess" and showed "a complete loss of authority" for Leonard, who is reported to have originally suggested the special conference, tabling it at a meeting of Shadow Cabinet on Monday.

However one party source insisted Leonard’s idea was not a formal proposal, and was always subject to SEC approval.

Last night, Leonard issued a statement praising the work of Labour members during the election, and apologising for the result.

He said: "I know that the process we have agreed to today will allow us to listen and learn and that we will stand together to fight and win again. We owe that to all those whom we seek to represent.”

He added that a consultation on how the party should proceed will be led by Linda Stewart, a former chair of Scottish Labour, and respected academic, Professor David Conway, and is due to report back to the executive in March.

He explained: "As I set out shortly after last month’s election, I want Scottish Labour to hold a swift, evidence-based review of the result and the lessons we must learn as a party. We must in particular consider our position on the constitutional questions which dominated the general election campaign: namely Scotland’s constitutional future and our relationship with the European Union – drawing on our tradition as the party of devolution."

The leader faced harsh criticism from opposition parties, who compared his stance on Independence with Jeremy Corbyn's on Brexit.

Willie Rennie, Scottish LibDem leader, said: “Richard Leonard’s authority was undermined in the election by Jeremy Corbyn. Now he has been undermined by his own Executive in Scotland. It begs the question: is anyone listening to the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

“The Liberal Democrats are clear: we are opposed to independence. Who knows what Labour’s position is."

Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative MSP, said the SEC result was an illustration of "the chaotic state" of the party.

He said: “This is another humiliating result for Richard Leonard.

“He was pushing for his party to give in to the SNP on IndyRef2, but he’s been stopped by his own executive.

“They are all over the place when it comes to Scotland’s place in the Union, and the in-fighting will only continue.

“The only thing that is clear after this is that you can’t trust Labour to stand up to the SNP and their plans for IndyRef2.”

Meanwhile Kirsty Blackman,the SNP's deputy leader, said that Leonard " appears to be Scottish Labour leader in name only - having been fatally undermined by his own party's executive committee."

She said: "Scotland is about to be dragged out of the EU against our will by a Tory Prime Minister we didn’t elect, after a decade of Tory austerity governments that we didn’t vote for. If in the face of that devastating reality, Labour sides with the Tories again and seeks to deny the people of Scotland a choice over our future - they will sink even further into irrelevance."

Neil Findlay, Labour MSP and supporter of further devolution as a third option on any independence ballot, said he could not comment on the SEC decision directly but said the party must have "a very robust position on the constitution".

He told the Herald on Sunday: "It is my view that it should be working towards a devo-max position - this is not a title I like, however a position that reflects much more devolution, based on the principle that powers should be devolved to the lowest possible level, unless there is an overwhelming reason not to - and that position in my view should be put on the ballot paper as the third option in any future independence referendum. In the longer term it is my view we should be working towards a federal UK, but I fully accept that we are not in that position at the moment. However we can put forward a much enhanced devolution package which I think would gather widespread support.