Scotland politics

EU Elections 2019: UK's longest serving MEP says Labour needs to 'wake up'

David Martin Image copyright PA
Image caption David Martin was elected to the European Parliament in 1984, but a collapse in the Labour vote in Scotland resulted in him not being returned to Brussels

The UK's longest serving MEP has warned Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to stop trying to "ride two horses" over Brexit and pick a clearer position.

David Martin had been a member of the European parliament for 35 years but lost his Scottish seat at the 23 May poll after the Labour vote collapsed.

For the first time the party will have no MEPs in Scotland and is facing its worst election result since 1910.

Mr Martin said this was because of a failure to take a clear Brexit stance.

Speaking to BBC Scotland's news website he said: "I hope that the leadership has got the message because this should be a wake up call."

In a strongly worded statement following the election result, two Scottish Labour MPs, Ian Murray and Martin Whitfield, said it was "devastating" that Mr Martin was no longer representing Scotland in the European Parliament.

They added that the "blame for the worst result in Scottish Labour's history lies squarely with our party's leadership".

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is facing calls for an emergency meeting of the party's executive committee from members concerned about the result.

Reflecting on the election, Mr Martin said: "Strangely on the ground it was quite a good campaign, but on the other hand I thought our message was poor, we didn't really communicate our position and some people might say that is because we don't have one.

"In fairness to Corbyn I think he genuinely thinks he has to deliver on the result of the national referendum but on the other hand he has seen over the last few years how damaging Brexit is going to be to the country.

"He is trying to ride two horses and it has, of course, proved impossible."

He added: "Labour's message from the outset should have been we are the party which wants to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom and keep the UK in Europe, and reform both."

In a statement, the Labour leader said the EU elections had become "a proxy second referendum".

Mr Corbyn said: "With the Conservatives disintegrating and unable to govern, and parliament deadlocked, this issue will have to go back to the people, whether through a general election or a public vote."

He added: "Over the coming days, we will have conversations across our party and movement, and reflect on these results on both sides of the Brexit divide."

Labour has won just 10 MEPs in England and Wales and although Scotland's result will not be know until lunchtime on Monday, Mr Corbyn's party is on course to lose its two seats. In 2014 Labour won 20 MEPs across the UK.

The 'stay and fight' Labour veteran

By Andrew Picken, BBC Scotland news

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Media captionLongest serving MEP says he will miss the "international atmosphere"

David Martin said his original plan had been to retire at this EU election but Brexit had made him "stay and fight".

A former vice-president of the European parliament, Mr Martin career in Brussels was one more characterised by quietly going about his business than one of headline grabbing.

The 64-year-old's diligent approach won the former Lothian region councillor respect from all political quarters, as best illustrated by this tribute from Nicola Sturgeon.

But it also gave his interventions more of a punch.

This was best illustrated in the wake of the vote to leave the EU in 2016.

Mr Martin predicted the UK will no longer exist unless a "flexible and imaginative" Brexit solution is found for Scotland.

The former charity worker also said he could not rule out voting in favour of Scottish independence in a second ballot after the Brexit result.

Mr Martin had campaigned against Scotland leaving the UK in the 2014 independence referendum but said he could change his mind if backing a Yes vote was the best option for securing the country's links with Europe.

Edinburgh-born Mr Martin will now retire from elected politics and is pursuing a number of academic projects.

Asked about the highlights of his time in Brussels, he cited the funding secured for regenerating Scottish coalfields, his role in developing the Maastricht Treaty and working on a string of trade deals between the EU and countries around the world.