Sir Keir Starmer has said SNP demands for a second independence referendum must be considered by Westminster if Nicola Sturgeon’s party win a majority in next year’s Scottish elections.
The UK Labour leader said if there was a SNP majority “it’s got to be looked at”, but his party would go into the May contest campaigning against another “divisive” poll.
The Scottish Conservatives accused Sir Keir of refusing to stand up to the SNP following his remarks on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show.
Ahead of Labour’s virtual UK conference, Sir Keir was asked if there should be another referendum if the SNP achieve a majority in May.
“I think another independence referendum will be divisive, and that’s why the Labour Party will be campaigning in the May elections on the economy, rebuilding the economy, on ensuring our public services are in the right place and defeating the coronavirus,” Sir Keir replied, adding that he was “frustrated” the SNP was discussing independence in the middle of a pandemic.
Sir Keir was then reminded of the position he outlined on a visit to Scotland in January this year, before he became leader.
Pressed by Ms Ridge, the UK Labour leader said: “This is a question for Scotland and the people of Scotland. If there’s a majority it’s got to be looked at in Westminster.
“But the Labour party will be campaigning into May on the basis that what we don’t want is another divisive referendum.”
After his appearance on Sky, Sir Keir sidestepped a similar question when he appeared on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. Asked by Mr Marr if Labour would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Boris Johnson and refuse indyref2, Sir Keir answered: “I’m not being hypothetical about what the future may hold.”
Dean Lockhart MSP, Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman, said: “Just like Jeremy Corbyn before him, Keir Starmer is refusing to stand up to the SNP.
“The issue of another massively divisive referendum should not be up for discussion in the middle of the most serious public health emergency in generations.
“The Holyrood election should first and foremost be a judgement on the SNP’s appalling track record in education, health, transport and other public services over the past 14 years.
“These comments will not be helpful for Richard Leonard and Scottish Labour, who are already too busy fighting among themselves to stand up to the SNP.
“Only the Scottish Conservatives are united and ready to take Scotland forward.”