Page last updated at 10:33 GMT, Sunday, 11 May 2008 11:33 UK

Scots party backing for Alexander

Wendy Alexander
Ms Alexander said her party had 'called the SNP's bluff'

Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander's call for an early independence referendum has been backed by her party's ruling body.

She said her party had called the SNP's bluff, after a meeting of Labour's Scottish executive in Stirling.

It came after a source close to the prime minister said he and Ms Alexander would "lead the defence of the Union".

Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon again claimed Ms Alexander had no credibility.

Ms Alexander told BBC Scotland following the Labour meeting: "I welcome the full support of Labour's Scottish Executive for our success in the Scottish Parliament this week in exposing the hypocrisy of the SNP.

We gave the SNP a chance to bring it forward and they ran scared from the verdict of the Scottish people
Wendy Alexander

"We gave them a chance to bring it forward and they ran scared from the verdict of the Scottish people."

She said she had the "highest regard" for the prime minister, adding: "We talk regularly and I have no doubt that I have his confidence."

Labour has been accused of being in "disarray" over whether there should be a referendum on independence after, as recently as March, Ms Alexander stated her opposition to the vote.

Last Sunday the Scottish Labour leader changed her stance when she called on the Scottish Government to "bring it on" - but ministers have refused to speed up their plans to hold the referendum in 2010.

Gordon Brown also failed to explicitly support Ms Alexander at Prime Minister's Questions.

Gordon Brown
The prime minister failed to endorse Ms Alexander's stance in the Commons

Meanwhile, a senior aide to Gordon Brown has described Ms Alexander as a "first rate leader" but avoided commenting on her proposals to bring forward a referendum.

"This week, the SNP have been flushed out on their plans for a referendum," he said.

"The separatists clearly fear the verdict of the Scottish people but they hope that eventually their politics of grudge and grievance, together with a partisan referendum question, can push Scotland out of the Union.

"Gordon and Wendy will lead the defence of the Union and Scotland's place in it and they support the continuing work of the Calman Commission and its proposals to strengthen devolution and the Union."

The SNP branded Labour's position a humiliating climb-down.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Words like 'laughing stock' do not even begin to reach the extent of the Labour Party's disarray and humiliation."


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