Jeremy Corbyn 'absolutely fine' with second Scottish vote

Nicola Slawson

Jeremy Corbyn has said it is “absolutely fine” for Scotland to hold a second referendum on independence, signalling Labour would campaign again for Britain to remain united.

His comments came amid persistent speculation that the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was about to demand a section 30 order from Westminster to allow a legally binding vote to be held on Scotland’s place in the UK.

The Scottish National party (SNP) leader has repeatedly said a fresh ballot is “highly likely” following the Brexit referendum, which saw Scotland vote to remain in the European Union, while the UK as a whole voted to leave.

The Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, has made it clear she opposes another ballot on independence, but Corbyn said on Saturday he did not think Westminster should try to block one if Sturgeon insisted on it. .

“If a referendum is held then it is absolutely fine, it should be held,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the job of Westminster or the Labour party to prevent people holding referenda.”

He said if there was a vote in the Commons on whether Scotland should have another referendum, Labour “wouldn’t block it”. But he stressed the importance of the economic ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and on the issue of further devolution said any further transferral of powers as a result of Brexit should go further than just Holyrood.

“I do think we should set it within the context of the economic relationship with the rest of the UK, and the question of devolution of EU [powers] to English regions and to Scotland, and to parts of Scotland rather than just to the government in Holyrood, because the principle of regionalism is it goes to everybody within a region, not just to the central powers, and the SNP have a bit of a tendency to centralise things around themselves.”

A source close to Corbyn said: “Westminster blocking a second referendum would give the SNP exactly what they want – more grievance.

“Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right to oppose a second referendum at Holyrood and to keep the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to rule one out. However any hypothetical deal on a second referendum is highly premature as there would need to be lengthy negotiations around the timing and the question on the ballot paper, given the remain/leave precedent set in the EU referendum.

“All of these negotiations would happen at a time when the SNP should be focused on education, where attainment is falling, on the NHS, which faces a workforce crisis, and on our economy which sees 220,000 Scottish children live in poverty.

“Next week Nicola Sturgeon must rule out a second referendum and get back to the bread and butter issues.”

Corbyn also said Labour would continue to try to change the Brexit bill to give European citizens a guaranteed right to remain in the UK.
He said key votes on amendments to the Brexit bill passed by the Lords – on the right of EU nationals to remain in the UK and on the final vote on the proposed Brexit deal – were returning to the Commons on Monday.

“Clearly to win requires all opposition parties to unite on this. That, we seem to be able to do but it also requires Conservative abstentions or votes with us on it …

“It seems to be an important message to put that EU nationals make a massive contribution to our society, in health, in education, in science and engineering, in agriculture, in so many ways. And they ought to be given the opportunity to remain in Britain. That would help to frame the future relationship with the EU after Brexit.”

“If the Commons does not accept those Lords amendments it goes back to the Lords. If they persist it comes back to us a day or two later. We will keep on with this.”

Sturgeon responded with a tongue-in-cheek tweet suggesting the Labour leader’s comments had amounted to campaigning for her.

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