SCOTTISH Labour must “write off” the Holyrood elections and accept their leader is a “busted flush” in the eyes of the public, a former Labour MP has claimed.

Tom Harris, who lost his Glasgow South seat in the 2015 general election, said a change in leadership of the party would not make a difference to its chances in May 2021.

Speaking in an online panel discussion about the constitution, he also said that the SNP would never accept a ‘no’ vote in any independence referendum, and would demand a third if a second poll failed.

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Asked by The Herald about Scottish Labour’s chances next year, Mr Harris said:  “I don't think it makes an awful lot of difference now about who leads Scottish Labour, I think they're going to have to write off May, 2021, whoever leads them.”

He described the current leader Richard Leonard as “a decent man who was never really a Corbynite” but said he was “now seen as a busted flush”.

Mr Harris explained: “I think the public tends to make a judgment of political leaders, and once they've made that judgment, they tend not to change their mind.

“Whether fairly or unfairly, I think people have made their minds up about Richard.

“So the question is, would his replacement by anyone, say Anas Sarwar or Jenny Marra make a difference? At the margins, perhaps.

"But I think if Scottish Labour is to recover in the longer term, it is not going to emerge in May, it's going to be well beyond that.”

Mr Harris added that the party did “need a new leader and it's always better to replace a failing leader earlier than later” but explained: “I don't think it's going to have an awful lot of effect before May.

“Apart from anything else, people are just talking about Covid so it's difficult to get traction on health, transport, the economy, whatever when something like this is going on.”

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The former MP, who headed up the Scottish arm of the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign, also addressed the issue of Scottish independence and said it would be “absurd to claim that independence is definitely not going to happen” and acknowledged that there had been a rise in support for it in the wake of the Brexit vote.

He said: “I can accept there has been an undeniable increase in support for independence since June 2016, maybe by five or six points… Devolution itself has been a far greater boost for the nationalists.

“It would be absurd, blinkered, to claim independence is definitely not going to happen. Political facts of life force us at least to consider the possibility.

“But if independence is to be achieved. It's not going to happen because of the efforts of the nationalists, it will happen because of the misjudgements of unionists.”

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He added: “We have to be clear about this; there is no alternative reality in which the SNP placidly accepted the result of the 2014 referendum.

“An SNP that doesn't demand that (independence) every day of every year is an SNP without any purpose.

“An SNP leader who doesn't prioritise a referendum will very soon be an ex-leader. “And if another referendum was ever held and there was another No vote there is not the slightest prospect of the SNP accepting that result either, or not campaigning for a third one.”