Shadow chancellor contradicts Labour policy, suggesting party should not block referendum
John McDonnell has said Labour should allow Holyrood to stage a second independence referendum if MSPs vote for one, contradicting party policy.
The shadow chancellor told an event at the Edinburgh festival fringe that his party should not try to block a second vote on independence by withholding the legal powers to do so.
Interviewed by the broadcaster Iain Dale, McDonnell said: “We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy.”
McDonnell admitted Labour was split on the issue, but implied the UK leadership agreed. “There are other views within the party, but that’s our view,” he said.
His remarks, which follow a poll on Monday showing 52% of Scottish voters now back independence, contradict Scottish Labour policy and the formal position of the UK party not to support another plebiscite on independence.
Under section 30 of the Scotland Act, Holyrood could only hold one if it is given the power to do so by the UK government.
The Conservative government has repeatedly refused to give it such authority, but the Brexit crisis and the growing prospects of an early general election has brought the question to the fore.
Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Labour leader and a close ally of McDonnell, has repeatedly wavered on the issue, but has said that if he became prime minister the party would “decide at the time” on whether to authorise a vote.
Corbyn added, however: “We don’t want another referendum, we don’t think another referendum is a good idea, and we’ll be very clear on why we don’t think it’s a good idea.”
McDonnell contradicted that stance, telling Dale: “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.
His comments were condemned by his party colleague Ian Murray, the MP for Edinburgh South.
“These are utterly irresponsible comments from John McDonnell that betray our party’s values,” he said.
“The Labour Party is an internationalist party founded on a vision of solidarity and we should never seek to appease nationalists, whether they be for Brexit or Scottish independence, who want to divide communities and people.”