UK and Scottish Labour have clashed over the party’s position on the idea of holding a second Scottish independence referendum after John McDonnell said he would not seek to block another vote.
Speaking at the Edinburgh fringe festival on Tuesday evening, the Shadow Chancellor told interviewer Iain Dale: “We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy.”
On the matter of Scottish independence, McDonnell noted: “It will be for the Scottish parliament and the Scottish people to decide that. They will take a view about whether they want another referendum. Nicola Sturgeon said by late next year or the beginning of 2021.
Referring to the UK parliament as “English”, he concluded: “The Scottish parliament will come to a considered view on that and they will submit that to the government and the English parliament itself.”
McDonnell’s comments also suggested that the stance he set out last night was shared by the whole UK Labour leadership, when he said: “There are other views within the party, but that’s our view.”
‘We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide’
Listen as John McDonnell speaks about a second Scottish independence referendum at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
— ITV News (@itvnews) August 7, 2019
In response, a Scottish Labour spokesperson said: “John McDonnell was clearly not advocating a second independence referendum. He made clear the huge benefit a UK Labour government will bring for the people of Scotland.
“Labour stands for an end to the status quo in the UK: economically, politically and constitutionally. The real change we need to see in society is an end to austerity and investment in our people, our communities and our public services.”
On Tuesday, prominent Scottish Labour MP and Corbynsceptic Ian Murray described the comments by McDonnell as “utterly irresponsible” and “thoughtless”, and claimed that they betrayed the party’s values.
Labour’s Scottish leader, Jeremy Corbyn ally Richard Leonard, avowed earlier this year that the national party in government would refuse to grant the order under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 that would allow another public vote to be held.
Commenting for the first time on McDonnell’s views, Leonard said today: “I met with John this morning, and I made clear to him that a second independence referendum is unwanted by the people of Scotland and it is unnecessary. The 2014 referendum was a once in a generation vote.”
Scottish Labour parliamentary candidates have issued a statement following the reports. It asserts that they oppose “the uncertainty and economic upheaval that leaving the UK would cause” and “do not believe the answer to nationalism is more nationalism”.
Labour’s 2017 manifesto stated: “Labour opposes a second Scottish independence referendum. It is unwanted and unnecessary, and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK. Independence would lead to turbo-charged austerity for Scottish families.”
It is widely thought that McDonnell was shifting the Labour position on an independence referendum because the party wants to keep open the possibility that the Scottish National Party would support it in a hung UK parliament.
At an event on Wednesday afternoon, McDonnell was asked about the row and said a “conversation with Labour supporters who also support independence” was needed, according to freelance journalist Assa Samaké-Roman. But the Labour frontbencher also ruled out any formal pact or coalition with the SNP because: “We’re a socialist party. The SNP isn’t.”