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Henry McLeish: 'Yes, I would support independence'

Henry McLeish, credit Dave Anderson

Henry McLeish: 'Yes, I would support independence'

Former First Minister Henry McLeish has said he would vote for Scottish independence in a second referendum.

The ex-Labour leader, who has long supported another vote on the constitution, has previously only said he would think “really seriously” about voting yes.

One of his party colleagues described him as a “rat joining a sinking ship”.

McLeish told the Herald’s podcast he would prefer to remain in the UK, but that depended on reform of how Westminster works with the devolved governments. 

He said: “I’m not an optimist about the possibilities of the Union changing.

“But I do believe there are ways the Union can change to accommodate an assertive, an ambitious, a modern Scotland moving forward. 

“I would like to see that as a possibility…. so that when there’s a referendum, it maybe it needn’t be an Indyref2, what it might mean is there are other questions and options.”

McLeish said Boris Johnson’s “brutal Unionism” risked “dismantling” devolution. 

He said: “We’re not just faced with fighting for a way forward for Scotland, we’re actually looking at the defence of what has been achieved so far.


“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not Scotland that’s out of step or Northern Ireland or Walers or parts of England, it is the Union’s inability to see the modernity of Scotland’s advance and actually think there is another way forward, where the Union can chance and accommodate what I regard as a multi-nation framework instead of looking at a United Kingdom that won’t giver anything away and remains highly centralised.”

Asked how he would vote in a Yes/No referendum on independence, McLeish said: “Let me answer the question by saying I don’t believe there will be an Indyref2 vote within the next five years. 

“What I’m saying, and this is the sting in the tail of my message, is that if the Union doesn’t look like, from Labour of the Conservatives, that it’s going in the way that I’m talking about, then Yes, I would support independence.”

Asked to confirm that he would vote for independence, McLeish said: “Yes. If I’m convinced that the Union... will not change, then I could support independence because I believe that each of the nations of the UK has the right to self-determination and move forward. All I’m arguing is that there’s a chance to do something different, and let’s have a debate about an alternative to independence before there is a vote on independence.”

He added: “If it’s only economic fears that are binding us within the Union, that’s a pretty poor state of affairs. I believe that Scotland could be independent tomorrow.

“But Scots have to make a judgment next time round. 

“As well as the fears they had before, they’ve got to be courageous if they want to take if forward, but they’ve also got to accept that the Brexit insanity has made life more complex and much more difficult as we move forward as a nation.”

SNP depute Leader Keith Brown welcomed McLeish’s change of heart: “More and more people in Scotland support an independent Scotland – so it’s welcome that Henry McLeish, one of the fathers of devolution, supports decisions about Scotland being taken by those who live here.

“Independence is normal, and Scotland only has to look to the successes of other small independent European nations like Ireland to consider the immense possibilities that lie ahead.”

A Scottish Labour source told the Herald: “A predictable pronouncement, from yesterday’s man desperately seeking relevance.”

Labour peer Lord George Foulkes added: "I have heard of rats leaving a sinking ship, but I have never heard of rats joining a sinking ship."

McLeish was Scotland's second First Minister, taking on the role in 2000 after the death of Donald Dewar.

His time in office ended the next year following controversy over his office expenses.


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