Labour leadership hopeful Andy Burnham has warned that there is no room for prevarication on the need to keep nuclear weapons on the Clyde as Scottish Labour prepares to debate the renewal of Trident.
New Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has pledged to hold a debate on Trident at the party’s conference in October, amid a renewed split created by UK leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to scrap the weapons and retrain the current nuclear workforce.
Her deputy Alex Rowley has said he does not believe the case had been made for renewal of the Clyde-based deterrent and called for a referendum to be held on the issue.
But Mr Burnham today insisted that Trident is “the ultimate reserved matter”, and said that while the views of the Scottish party would be taken into account, the future of Trident must remain a UK matter.
The Merseyside MP also welcomed a suggestion that he is “the modern day John Smith” as he campaigned in the Edinburgh church where the late Labour leader was laid to rest.
Mr Burnham said voters should look to Mr Smith, the Scottish devolution trailblazer whose death in 1994 heralded the start of the Tony Blair era, to understand his own policies.
He told the Press Association: “Given the way the world is with the unpredictability and the insecurity, I personally believe that this would be the wrong time for Britain to drop its defences.
“These issues are important for security reasons, but of course it would have economic consequences for people in Scotland if we were not to renew Trident.”
He added: “Of course we would hear their voice, but this has to be a UK Labour decision.
“In the end, the UK deterrent is the ultimate reserved matter. This is a decision that affects everybody in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland and it has to take account of opinion is all of those places.
“So while we do not shy away from the debate, and there are different views in the Labour Party, let us be absolutely clear about that, in the end the party has to come to a clear position.
“There is no room for prevarication or ambivalence on this question, and it’s a decision that would have to be taken by the Labour Party conference.
“It’s an issue that reflects the logic of the devolution settlement that we have, where matters of utmost national significance as they relate to the whole of the UK remain decisions at a UK level.
“While of course the views of the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and indeed the Scottish Labour Party as a whole, would be very clearly taken into account, it is a decision that is a broader UK-wide decision and that, in the end, is how it would have to be done.
“There’s a range of views within the party, but there is also a range of views in Scotland.
“I think public opinion is pretty much broadly split between for and against.”
Labour peer George Foulkes welcomed Mr Burnham to Morningside Parish Church, the church that John Smith attended in life and the site of his funeral in 1994.
Lord Foulkes said: “John Smith was my hero in the Labour Party. I think Andy Burnham is the modern day John Smith. He represents the same fundamentals of our party, the same good things about our party.”
Mr Burnham said: “That’s the nicest thing that anyone has said in this whole leadership election, because I did and do look up to John.
“I was asked recently the Labour leader I most relate to, and I said John because that is me, that is my politics and if that helps you understand me a bit more that is a wonderful tribute.”
Earlier, Mr Burnham told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I want our new leader Kezia to have the autonomy she needs to lead Scottish Labour forward.
“I have already made a commitment that, if I win this leadership election, I would put emergency powers straight through our conference this year to get this balance right, to reflect the new arrangements coming through the Scotland Bill in the House of Commons on crucial issues like benefits.
“The party here need to campaign on the issues that matter to the Scottish people without any interference from London.”