John McDonnell rules out electoral pact with SNP
John McDonnell has ruled out a pact with the SNP and doubled down on his commitment to allowing a second referendum on Scottish independence, despite an intervention from Scottish party leader Richard Leonard calling on him to oppose holding another vote.
In comments that lay bare divisions between the UK and Scottish Labour parties, the shadow chancellor told Graham Spiers at the Edinburgh Festival that the decision should be “up to the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament”, adding, “I’m not into blocking democratic exercises, by any means”.
The comments came after a meeting with Leonard, who said he made it clear to McDonnell that “a second independence referendum is unwanted by the people of Scotland and it is unnecessary”.
With new polling from Lord Ashcroft, released in Holyrood on Monday, showing a majority of Scots are now in favour of independence and want a second referendum by 2021, the shadow chancellor said: "My view is we shouldn't be allowed in this way to be manipulated by Nicola Sturgeon in that referendum debate, by trying to accuse a UK parliament of blocking the will of the Scottish people."
McDonnell’s stance angered sections of Scottish Labour, with Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray accusing him of “making up Scottish Labour Party policy on the hoof”.
He said: “Scottish Labour opposes a damaging and divisive Scottish independence referendum. The policy is set by the Scottish Labour Party and outlined in our last manifesto.”
Murray added: “Every time a member of the Labour Party shadow cabinet crosses the border they seem to get confused about Scottish Labour policy on the constitution.”
But while highlighting Boris Johnson’s cabinet as “extremely right wing”, McDonnell rejected reports suggesting the party was considering an electoral deal with Nicola Sturgeon, adding “my own view, I think the SNP are Tories, it’s as simple as that”.
He said: “I ruled out any pact, any coalition, whatsoever. I think I have done it three times, but let’s make it absolutely clear. We want a general election as soon as we can achieve a general election. And I say to Boris Johnson, bring it on. Let’s have this general election.”
He added: “From the position we are in now, with our base and mass membership, I believe we will go in as a majority government. But if we don’t, and I have made this explicitly clear, we will go in as a minority government, we will lay out our programme, and we will seek to implement it. If other political parties, or individual MPs, because there might be a number of Tory MPs as well, if they support our proposals, that’s up to them, that’s fine. If they don’t, we’ll go back to the people.”
In a statement released shortly before McDonnell confirmed he would not support blocking a second independence referendum if it had the support of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “I met with John this morning, and I 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. There is no economic case for independence, especially with the SNP’s new position of ditching the pound and new policy of turbo-charged austerity to bear down on the deficit.
“On that John McDonnell and I are in firm agreement - what Scotland needs is radical reforming Labour governments at Holyrood and Westminster.”
Speaking in Edinburgh, McDonnell warned an outright refusal to grant a section 30 order would boost support for the SNP, despite Leonard insisting in March that a Labour government would block a second referendum, even if the Scottish Parliament requested one.
Highlighting a recent Lord Ashcroft poll showing majority support for Scottish independence, McDonnell said: “The reaction to Boris Johnson’s trip around the UK has been in virtually every nation, area and region, animosity. In Scotland, Boris Johnson visits for a couple of days, and within hours support for independence rockets.”
He added: “What I am saying to people, the reaction to Boris Johnson in Scotland, in my view, isn’t independence, it’s electing a Labour government. That’s the best solution to tackling Boris Johnson, and that’s what we want. I want a Labour Government, to let us demonstrate what we can do to transform people’s lives. And if after a few years people want to come back and say, we want to test the water on an independence referendum, well fair enough. That’s up to the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament. I’m not into blocking democratic exercises, by any means. But I genuinely believe an independence referendum is an irrelevance in terms of what we have to do.”