Starmer: Scotland not ‘stuck’ in Union but independence vote is not priority

Sir Keir Starmer has said Scotland is not “stuck” in the Union – but ruled out backing an independence referendum.

The Labour leader said he understood the desire for change among Scots, but said the ambition stemmed from the “chaos” of a Conservative Government.

Asked if Scots should have the right to determine their own future, Sir Keir told BBC Scotland’s The Sunday Show: “I’m talking about priorities… and for, I think, many, many people across Scotland… the central concern will be the economy.”

He added: “I fundamentally reject the argument that the way you grow the economy is to put a border between Scotland and England.

“I don’t think that will help the economy. I think it will make a bad situation worse, but we have to be clear the priority going into that election has to be the economy, has to be the economy, has to be answering the question people are asking around their kitchen table, which is ‘can I make ends meet?’”

The UK Supreme Court is currently determining whether Holyrood has the powers to hold a referendum.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has outlined intentions to hold a referendum in October 2023 – or use the next general election as a de facto referendum if the parliament cannot call another vote.

Sir Keir said that even if the Supreme Court does rule in the Scottish Government’s favour, it does not mean the country “should” have a referendum.

“All the court is going to be able to rule, if it does rule in favour, is that there could be or can be – it is legally permissible – to have a referendum,” he said.

“That doesn’t answer the political question of should there be a referendum.”

And he said the Union is a “voluntary organisation”, with Scotland not “stuck” in the United Kingdom.

But Sir Keir said Scots want an alternative to the UK and Scottish governments, who he said are both using independence as a distraction for their “records of failure”.

The alternative – a Labour government – needs the backing of Scottish voters, he said.

Sir Keir said: “I want a Labour government that represents the whole of the United Kingdom and that’s why the road for me to a Labour government runs through Scotland.

“Scotland matters hugely to me and my Labour Party.”

He continued: “One of the drivers of independence – for change – is the very strong reaction that many people in Scotland have to the Conservative Government in Westminster.

“My job… is to change our party and expose that the Tories are unfit to govern and put forward a Labour government, which has changed, has the answers to the challenges of the future and is in a position to go into government.”

His comments have been criticised by SNP deputy Westminster leader Kirsty Oswald, who accused the Labour leader of “insulting ignorance of Scotland’s needs”.

She said: “Was that really a Labour leader speaking, because what Keir Starmer said was not only dangerous nonsense, it has already been said by each of the last four Tory prime ministers?

“He demonstrated an insulting ignorance of Scotland’s needs by restating his support for the failed policies of successive Tory governments like this catastrophic hard Brexit and an increasingly hard-right stance on immigration.

“To arrive in Scotland so entirely ignorant of the issues affecting our country is astounding incompetence for a man whose ambition is to be Britain’s prime minister.

“All he managed to do was confirm that if you vote Labour, you get the same failed Tory policies.”