SCOTTISH Labour should not block a second independence referendum, but push to have far greater devolution included on the ballot as a third option, Monica Lennon has said.

Speaking to the Herald after entering the race to be the party’s next leader, the Central Scotland MSP said: “It can’t just be a binary choice between someone’s version of independence and someone’s version of the Union.

“Scottish Labour is the party of devolution. That’s what I believe in. I understand why people would want Devo Max to be on the ballot.”

Under Devo Max, Holyrood would control all powers bar a few UK-level ones like defence and foreign affairs.

However she said the pandemic and the need for economic recovery meant it was not the right time for Indyref2.

“I’m really clear that the future of Scotland is for the people of Scotland to decide. I’m not going to tell people that they can’t have a referendum.

“But I’m also not going to be out there fighting for a referendum.

“I don’t believe in independence. It’s not my policy. That policy belongs to others. But I also recognise that there are people in Scotland who strongly want independence, or are curious about it, or they’re frustrated by the status quo.

“I want to listen to all of those people. I also want to respect the people who very strongly don’t want independence and want to remain in the Union. But the Union needs to be reformed.”

Referring to Sir Keir Starmer’s recent launch of a constitutional convention on greater devolution, she said: “These are conversations that are happening across the UK and the UK Labour party is at the centre of that.

“But I also believe that if people want a referendum and we get to that stage then Scottish Labour can’t sit on the sidelines of that. We have to absolutely influence that debate and what that referendum would look like.”

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Ms Lennon, 40, starts the five-week leadership contest as the underdog against Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar, who already has the backing of most of the party’s parliamentarians.

But like Richard Leonard, who defeated Mr Sarwar in 2017, she has the support of many on the left of the party and expects backing from key unions.

Mr Leonard quit last Thursday after three years of failing to connect with voters and two disastrous elections.

Nominations to be Scottish Labour’s tenth leader of the devolution era close today, with party members picking the winner by February 27 in time for the Holyrood election campaign.

Mr Sarwar and Ms Lennon both entered Holyrood in 2016, although Mr Sarwar was an MP for five years before that in the Glasgow seat formerly held by his father Mohammad Sarwar, while Mr Lennon was a planning officer and then a councillor in South Lanarkshire.

Ms Lennon, whose work recently saw Scotland become the first country in the world to provide free and universal access to period products, said she had a record of delivery, an ability to work across the aisle, and a desire to reconnect with voters.

She said: “For me, politics is very much about getting the job done and making life better for people. That’s what I’ve always done as a councillor, as an MSP.

“My world-leading legislation on ending period poverty is the most recent example of that. I’m standing to be the leader of Scottish Labour because I want world-leading education in Scotland, world-leading social care and mental health services.

“I want people to have fair work and be well-paid, and I want a better future for our young people, with dignity for our older people.

“I’ve been Scottish Labour’s health and social care spokesperson throughout the pandemic.

“I know up close what people are going through, in their families, in their communities and in their work places.”

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She added: “I think there is a moment here for Scottish Labour to reconnect. There are voters out there who want to give us a hearing... saying, Show us what you’re about, tell us your story, what are you going to do?

“As somebody who is part of the new generation, somebody who’s rolled up my sleeves and got results for people in parliament, I don’t want to just be there handing out sticking plasters.

“I can build relationships, I can collaborate, and I can hold the Government to account and be robust when I need to.

“But you don’t just get stuff done by going in and being angry and shouting.

“People will hopefully get to see my style and my personality, and the way that I care deeply about issues.

“I just genuinely want to help people and make sure our communities and public services are well resourced, so that in good times and bad times we can stop people getting into crisis and they can realise their potential.

“That’s why I’m in the race.”

Mr Sarwar, 37, a former NHS dentist, yesterday announced endorsements from 12 of the 23 Labour MSPs, Scotland’s sole Labour MP Ian Murray, more than 70 councillors and the shopworkers union Usdaw.

He said Holyrood should be a “Covid recovery parliament” after this year’s election not dwell on the constitution when jobs and the NHS were vital.

He said the country needed politicians who would bring people together and concentrate on jobs and the NHS instead of exploiting divisions over independence.

He said: “Our opponents want to take us back to old divisive politics. We need to rebuild Scottish Labour and then work to rebuild Scotland.

“Our local councils will be at the forefront of that recovery, but they have been starved of funding for years by the SNP. It’s time for a fair deal for local authorities, and I’m delighted to have the support of so many Labour councillors who work hard every day for their communities.

“I welcome the opportunity to put my vision to members and look forward to a friendly and positive campaign that demonstrates the very best of our party.”