A CANDIDATE to be the next general secretary of Unite has said it is "ridiculous" for Westminster to stand in the way of a second independence referendum.

Sharon Graham said Scottish self-determination is "absolutely critical" and insisted the trade union's membership would decide its position on independence. 

Elsewhere, she said Labour should "stop playing silly games" and focus on workers and questioned the party's relevance in Scotland, adding: "It isn't in Scotland, let's face it."

Ms Graham, 51, is vying to replace Len McCluskey as the leader of Unite, one of the UK's largest trade unions and a key donor to the Labour Party.

She faces competition from Steve Turner, a fellow left-winger who has been backed by Mr McCluskey, and Gerard Coyne, who is seen as the moderate candidate.

Speaking to The Herald, Ms Graham said the trade union's political decisions relating to Scotland should be devolved to the Scottish membership. 

She said: "For me, self-determination of Scotland is absolutely critical and I support it.

"The idea that Westminster thinks that they can decide whether or not Scotland is allowed to have a vote on its own course is totally inappropriate.

"Self-determination has to happen by the people of Scotland in Scotland.

"I don't live in Scotland. I don't have a right to have a view on whether there should be independence or not independence in Scotland.

"But what I would do as the general secretary of Unite the union, is my members would make that decision."

She added: "I think what is ridiculous is that Westminster could even be saying, 'We are going to tell you if you are allowed to.'

"I mean, that is just not acceptable.

"If I was in Scotland and I was listening to that, I would actually be incandescent, frankly.

"Because how can Westminster tell you, the people of Scotland, what you're allowed and not allowed to do as far as the referendum is concerned?"

Ms Graham's pledge to devolve political decisions to the membership includes those relating to the funding provided to Scottish Labour.

Asked if she accepted this could see the party's funding reduced or stopped, Ms Graham said she did not expect "anything huge" to change. 

She added: "But if that's what came out of that democratic decision, then I would abide by it."

Ms Graham said her focus will be on members, the workplace and conditions of employment.

She said: "If Labour do the right thing by workers, I absolutely will support them, I have no problem in doing that, because that's the job they should do.

"But if they're not going to do the right thing by workers, then of course they have to be called out for that."

Asked what she made of Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and his time in charge, she said: "The political terrain has changed in Scotland. It's changed in a huge way.

"It's almost like we're going on as though it hasn't changed. Talking about Labour in Scotland – I think people just glaze over when you start to do it.

"Because where is Labour in Scotland? It isn't in Scotland, let's face it.

"When you look 20 years ago with the number of seats that Labour had in Scotland versus where we are now.

"If I was Labour, wherever they are, I would start now – stop playing silly games, trying to trip people up.

"Let's talk about what is happening to working people in this country and the communities."

Ms Graham, who leads Unite's organising department, said both Mr Turner and Mr Coyne are "different sides of a similar argument".

She said: "The reason that I'm standing is because I want the workers to be heard."

She said jobs, pay and conditions should be the "absolute priority" of the general secretary.

And she warned the union will have to contend with suppression of pay, job losses, mental health issues and changes to terms and conditions in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Ms Graham previously revealed she had faced online abuse for her refusal to stand aside in the leadership battle.

She told The Herald the abuse has "crossed the line", adding: "The line has been just jumped, not just crossed, in terms of the level of abuse that I'm personally facing.

"It has been going on now for months. Every morning I wake up, it's constant."

However, she said it is a sign her campaign "is now building momentum of its own".