Labour would support second Scottish independence referendum once Brexit and other priorities sorted, Corbyn says

Labour government would prioritise EU exit, ending austerity and tackling climate emergency but would then allow fresh independence vote, leader says

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Thursday 29 August 2019 11:31
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Jeremy Corbyn accuses Boris Johnson of carrying out a 'smash and grab on our democracy' by asking the Queen to suspend Parliament

A Labour government would allow another referendum on Scottish independence providing it took place later in the next parliament, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The Labour leader said his party would not support an independence vote in the “formative years” of the government, when the focus would be on Brexit, public services and climate change, but would not block it at a later date.

However, he warned that independence was “not the answer” to Scottish voters’ opposition to Boris Johnson’s government, and said that Scotland breaking away from the UK would “further prolong and intensify austerity and create more instability and chaos”.

The shift in Labour’s position towards allowing a second independence referendum is likely to be seen as a bid to win over SNP voters amid mounting speculation of a general election later this year.

Support for Labour in Scotland has fallen since the 2017 general election, with a recent poll putting the party on just 17 per cent – significantly less than the 27 per cent it received in 2017.

In contrast, support for the SNP has climbed to 39 per cent amid concerns over Brexit and anger at Mr Corbyn’s refusal to fully support remaining in the EU.

Speaking during a visit to Scotland, Mr Corbyn said Labour would only allow another referendum after it had addressed its ”central priorities” of dealing with Brexit, ending austerity and addressing the climate emergency.

He said: ”In the formative years of a Labour government we wouldn’t agree to another independence referendum because we will be fully focused on these central priorities.

“However, if at some future point there was a legitimate and fresh mandate, we wouldn’t block it.”

Mr Corbyn said Boris Johnson’s threats to deliver a no-deal Brexit “will be a disaster for the whole country” but that the best way to oust the prime minister was by “sticking together” and electing a Labour government.

He added: “Scottish independence is not the answer to Johnson. Independence will only further prolong and intensify austerity and create more instability and chaos.”

The clarification of Labour’s policy came after John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, raised eyebrows earlier this month by saying the party would not stand in the way of a second independence referendum. Mr Corbyn has also previously hinted at his support for another vote.

However, Scottish Labour has been opposed to another ballot being held so soon after the 2014 vote, in which Scottish voters backed remaining in the UK by 55 per cent to 45 per cent.

Richard Leonard, the leader of Scottish Labour, said he had agreed with Mr Corbyn that any independence vote would only take place later in the term of the next Labour government.

He said: “Jeremy and I have agreed that, during the formative years of an incoming Labour government, we would not sanction a Section 30 order to allow a further referendum on Scottish independence to take place.”

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He added: “It would also only be acceptable to a Labour government to allow a second referendum to proceed if it could be demonstrated that there was a fresh mandate for such a vote to be held. This would require a democratic mandate from the people of Scotland, which clearly signals the majority of people are in favour of a new vote.

“I do not believe that the conditions exist for such a move today, nor will they for the foreseeable future.”

A poll earlier this month found that 46 per cent of Scottish voters would now vote in favour of independence, while 43 per said said they would vote against.

Responding to Mr Corbyn’s announcement, Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, said: “Jeremy Corbyn would break up the United Kingdom in return for a backroom deal with the SNP to get into No 10.

“Corbyn should stop playing political games and start respecting the will of the people to maintain the UK and leave the EU. Politicians don’t get to choose which public votes they respect.

“Only Boris Johnson and the Conservative and Unionist Party will stand up for the future of the United Kingdom and deliver Brexit by 31 October, whatever the circumstances.”

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