Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has been accused of an attempt to “censor” two of his MEPs over Brexit.
Leonard has apologised after the party’s conference brochure was edited, allegedly at his say-so, to remove a statement by outgoing MEPs Catherine Stihler and David Martin saying they “fully support a People’s Vote with the option to remain in the EU”.
Ex-leader Kezia Dugdale called the move “wholly inappropriate” and a “considerable insult” to the two politicians, who are stepping down as Britain leaves the EU, in a strongly-worded email to her boss.
Dugdale also claimed Stihler and Martin were denied a speaking slot at the event, which is due to take place in Dundee this weekend.
But the news triggered a series of briefings and counter-briefings from Scottish Labour sources, with some saying Dugdale, regarded by party leader Jeremy Corbyn allies as a centrist, was deploying an “exit strategy” from the party.
Others claimed Leonard had been “appalling” and “all over the place on Brexit”.
It emerged that this statement in the brochure:
‘Brexit is a tragedy for our country and for the workers and communities the Labour Party represents. That’s why David and Catherine fully support a People’s Vote with the option to remain in the EU.’
was replaced with this:
‘The complete mess the Tories have made of Brexit means they are putting Scottish people’s jobs and our industries at risk. Labour will always put them first.’
A source close to Leonard told HuffPost UK the leader would apologise to the MEPs in question.
They said: “This was a genuine misunderstanding and Richard has written to Catherine and David to apologise.”
Dugdale has launched a formal complaint, underlining that Labour’s policy is pro-second referendum should Theresa May refuse Corbyn’s suggested stance on Brexit.
Her email to Leonard, leaked to reporters on Wednesday, reads: “I find that wholly inappropriate and I can’t possibly understand why you would seek to censor [Stihler’s] final words to party members, especially as what she states is party policy and has been since last September.
“Can I encourage you to please take urgent steps to rectify what I consider to be a considerable insult and ensure that we thank these two outstanding MEPs properly at conference.”
News of the complaint was followed by claims from Labour sources that Dugdale had plans to leave Labour – denied by her – and suggesting her “exit strategy” was to damage the party.
It comes after eight Labour MPs and three Tory MPs broke away from their parties to form the new Independent Group (TIG), citing Brexit among their reasons.
Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray called the claims about Dugdale “utterly astonishing”.
Another Scottish Labour source told HuffPost: “The truth is that our Scottish leadership is all over the place on Brexit and this just underlines how much they are looking over their shoulder trying to ape the position of the UK party.”
A spokesperson for Stihler said: “Catherine is a long-standing supporter of a People’s Vote and will be making her views clear as a Labour Party member at this weekend’s conference.”