Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said his arms are open to independence supporters.
His party began a spiral into third place in Scotland following the 2014 referendum on separation, powered by voters who changed their view on the constitution and cast their votes for the SNP.
Speaking to The Herald, the Labour leader reiterated his opposition to independence, but said that “doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to support independence, or the right to wish a referendum at some point in the future”.
He said: “I’ve been really honest with people. I don’t support independence; I don’t support a referendum.
“But that doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to support independence, or the right to wish a referendum at some point in the future.
“I have an open-arms approach towards people who don’t share our view of the constitution.
“The Tories say we’re weak on the Union, which is nonsense, and the SNP say we’re hostile to people who support independence. I’m not hostile to anyone.”
The leader said he was not trying to persuade voters they were “wrong on independence”, but he was trying to convince them that “Labour can provide good governance for Scotland”.
He added: “I won’t pretend that Labour has not been in a divided, toxic place in the last 10 years, but I don’t think anyone can say I’ve been factional and tribal in my leadership.
“I think people can see that the Labour Party is back on the pitch and that we’re competing to win elections again.
“And that we can get rid of this rotten, economically illiterate, morally bankrupt Tory Government.”
Voters, he added, were coming back to Labour to send a message to the SNP.
“I think there’s a large chunk of people who would have been hostile to us around 2014-2015 and who would have been strong supporters of independence,” he said.
“But they’re now saying openly that while they still like and support the idea of independence and want a referendum at some point in the future, the SNP has lost its way, and that it’s time for a change.”
Sarwar was speaking as his party is locked in a by-election campaign in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, with Labour and the SNP expected to be the frontrunners.
The contest is a key indicator of any potential Labour revival north of the border, with a YouGov poll this week putting the party just four percentage points behind the SNP at a Westminster election.