ANAS Sarwar has been warned by one of his new MSPs that Scottish Labour faces further decline if it maintains its “muddled” position on independence.

Left-winger Carol Mochan said the party needed an “honest assessment” of why it had suffered its worst Holyrood election result, with only a proportional voting system sparing it from “Liberal Democrat levels of annihilation”.

She said: “Labour simply is not seen as a serious challenger to the SNP by most. The sad fact is, though we are no longer met with anger on the doorsteps or the phones, what remains is a worrying indifference.

“When the dust settled over the weekend following the election count, we were not even close [to coming second]. That is of serious existential concern to a party that once utterly dominated Scottish political life.”

She identified the party’s failure to find a clear position on the constitution as a problem, leaving it caught in a “vice” between hardline Tory unionism and SNP anti-Tory nationalism, with little public support for federalism.

“If we reach the next Scottish Parliament election with the same muddled priorities, I think it is more than likely our vote will drop further.”

She added: “Fundamentally, the Labour Party has at its very foundation the concept of self-determination. It is impossible for my own party to claim there is not an appetite in a large part of the country for another referendum.”

Mr Sarwar deflected questions about Labour’s long-term plans on Indyref2 in the campaign by saying he wanted to focus on jobs not an “old argument”.

Ms Mochan, a list MSP for South Scotland thanks to Labour’s failure to win any seats in the region, makes the points in an article in the forthcoming May/June edition of the Scottish Left Review (SLR).

Her prescription is a return to the popular socialist policies Labour offered in the 2017 general election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn, calling it “the model for how we begin again”.

HeraldScotland: Labour MSP Carol MochanLabour MSP Carol Mochan

In the same SLR issue, Alba MP Kenny MacAskill also admits the election was “too soon” for Alex Salmond’s new party to succeed, but says the result “justifies its birth and ensures its necessity”.

The former Justice Secretary said the “ironic” outcome of the SNP competing with Alba for support on Holyrood lists was Unionist tactical voting which stopped an SNP majority.

He said it meant “sterile debate” and posturing between Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson over Indyref2.

He said: “The reality is that it’s a charade where both know it’s not happening anytime soon. But at least it keeps their partisan audience satiated.”

Ms Mochan stood in her home seat of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, where she came 6,006 votes behind the SNP’s Jeane Freeman in 2016.

After Ms Freeman stood down at the election, her SNP successor Elena Whitham held on by 4,337 votes.

Ms Mochan came third after being overtaken by the Tories as Labour’s vote share sank to 24.2 per cent; it was 42.5% when it last won the seat in 2007.

Nationally, Scottish Labour fell from 24 to 22 MSPs, as its vote share fell by 1 point in seats and 1.2% on the list.

It lost the East Lothian seat to the SNP, and failed to come close to ousting the SNP in its target seats.

Ms Mochan, part of the Campaign for Socialism Group, said: “At times, in Scottish Labour, it seemed our messaging was designed primarily to maintain the three constituencies we held onto in 2016.

“Overall, our vote dropped across Scotland in terms of the constituencies and the regional lists, and on the latter the Tories were comfortably ahead of my party. In a ‘first-past-the-post’ system we would be heading for Liberal Democrat levels of annihilation.”

She urged the Left of the party to seize the initiative, saying fellow new MSPs Katy Clark Paul Sweeney, Mercedes Villalba and herself were now part of “the biggest left wing grouping in the Scottish Labour Parliamentary Party for some time”.

She said her message to party members was: “We can organise for a serious socialist future, but you have to get involved. In the age when social media posturing online has become the currency of activism for some, some will have to wake up from that. It’s a smokescreen and an echo chamber.

“I am one of the least likely people to ever become an MSP, I never saw myself in this position, but it happened because I saw the devastating effects of austerity on ordinary people who are under the boot of capitalism.

“It starts on the streets and doorsteps of Scotland. I will see you there.”

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We’re on a journey to build a credible alternative to the SNP.

We ran an energetic and enthusiastic campaign, which put Labour back on the pitch and is something for us to build on for the next five years. Our campaign for a national recovery defined the election campaign, and we will take that energy into the Scottish Parliament.”