John McDonnell refuses to back down from Scottish referendum claim despite growing Labour backlash
‘I don’t want to use parliamentary devices to block it,’ shadow chancellor says
John McDonnell has refused to back down from his position that Labour would not block a second Scottish independence referendum, despite facing a growing backlash from furious party figures.
The shadow chancellor reiterated his stance that a Labour government would not use “parliamentary devices” at Westminster to block the will of either the Scottish parliament, or people.
He claimed that by doing so would mean falling into a trap “set up” by the SNP to cast a future Labour government and the “big bad English” as standing in the way of their proposals.
It comes after Mr McDonnell contradicted the party’s leader in Scotland, Richard Leonard, who earlier this year said a Labour government would “not agree to” a second independence referendum.
Mr Leonard told the BBC in March that if Labour took power in Westminster, the party would refuse to grant a Section 30 order – a mechanism giving Holyrood the power to hold another vote.
While Mr McDonnell, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies, insisted the party would campaign against having a referendum, he added on Wednesday: “I’ve reinforced the view that a referendum isn’t the solution to the problems in this country.
“But I don’t want to use parliamentary devices to block it. I’m not in favour of blocking, I’ve said it time and time again in interviews.”
Mr Leonard confirmed he had met with Mr McDonnell after his remarks and “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,” he said.
In an interview at the Edinburgh Festival with LBC journalist Iain Dale on Tuesday, Mr McDonnell provoked anger as he said that any decision on holding a vote would be down to the Scottish parliament.
“It will be for the Scottish parliament and the Scottish people to decide that,” he said. “We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide.”
“They will take a view about whether they will want another referendum. Nicola Sturgeon said by late next year or the beginning of 2021.”
Reacting to the comments, the Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray told the BBC: “Why John McDonnell has cross the border to go to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to change a massive constitutional policy on the hoof is completely beyond me.”
Venting his frustration, he continued: “We’ve had no explanation from John McDonnell, apart from him doubling down again today, of why he would even consider an off the cuff remark on this policy. Even if he wants to change policy, we are supposed to be a democratic party.
“Where is the Scottish Labour Party members’ input into this massive constitutional change in policy?
“He has a lot to explain, but firstly I think he should apologise to Richard Leonard, because Richard Leonard is right. The policy is no to a second independence referendum.”
Labour’s manifesto at the 2017 general election claimed independence in Scotland would “lead to turbocharged austerity for Scottish families”.
“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.”
Intervening in the row, Labour MP Stella Creasy added: “Nationalism is antithesis of socialism – to prioritise passports over principles isn’t progressive.
“Egalitarian devolution isn’t about separation but how by working together as nations within the UK each stronger and more successful. Labour abandons such commitment at our peril.”
And seizing on the comments, the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Mr McDonnell’s remarks were met with “complete dismay” by Labour voters in Scotland.
Echoing attack lines used by the Tories at the 2015 general election against the then-leader Ed Miliband, Ms Davidson said the shadow chancellor’s comments signalled Labour’s intention to propose a pact with the SNP to “parachute Jeremy Corbyn into No 10”.
“The fact is this – Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would happily sell Scotland down the river if they thought it could give them a sniff of power,” she added.