Keir Starmer has repeated his belief that the SNP “will have a mandate” for an independence referendum if they win a majority at Holyrood, setting him on a collision course with Scottish Labour colleagues.
Sir Keir said the issue of a second poll was a “question for Scotland” and that he “stands by” an interview from January in which he said Labour would not block another referendum if there was a pro-independence majority at May’s election.
The comments come a day after shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray told the Labour Party conference: “The constitutional argument has been settled as far as the Scottish Labour Party is concerned, we are against independence, we are against a second independence referendum.”
His off the cuff comments, made during a Sky News interview, will likely anger party members north of the border who were undermined several times on the referendum question during Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader.
Sir Keir had originally set out to make the case that the constitution should not be a debating issue in May.
He said: “I’ll be perfectly open about this, there is no route back for Labour that doesn’t run through Scotland.
“What I was discussing last week in Scotland, with Scottish Labour, was the importance of rebuilding the economy in Scotland.
Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said *yesterday* "the constitutional argument has been settled as far as the Scottish Labour Party is concerned, we are against independence, we are against a second independence referendum" https://t.co/k1zsh1C9f6
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) September 23, 2020
“We will be making the argument, going into that election next May, that this is not the time for another divisive independence referendum; there are other priorities. I think it’s the last thing that we need.”
Asked several times if he stood by comments in January on the issue, he said: “Well, these issues are questions for Scotland, I do stand by that.”
In a separate interview with the BBC, he was asked if the party would ever back another referendum, to which he said: “We don’t know what will happen after May.
“And in politics, people tell you with great certainty what is going to happen next year and the year after, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.”
North-east Tory MP Andrew Bowie said the remarks revealed that “Labour cannot be trusted on the union”.