Keir Starmer: De facto referendum plans 'stand in the way of common sense'
Keir Starmer has said the SNP winning a majority of Scottish votes in the next general election would not provide a mandate for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Speaking at the Edinburgh launch of his party’s Commission on the UK’s Future report, the Labour leader said general elections were fought on a variety of issues which can’t be reduced to the constitution.
He said: “No amount of discussion by other people is going to change the terms of the general election. That is what a general election is all about.
“What government do you want to lead on the economy, on international matters, on security, on defence, on the conflict in Ukraine, on the health service, on the cost-of-living crisis, on the energy crisis? These are not issues that can be reduced by somebody else into a completely different constitutional question.
“That is what a general election is all about – all those issues. And the idea that all of that is as naught, and nobody is interested in those questions, we’re arguing about something that Nicola Sturgeon defines in that way is just to stand in the way of common sense about what a general election is about.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said her party will fight the next election – due by the end of 2024 – as a de facto referendum, following the Supreme Court ruling that the Scottish Parliament could not unilaterally legislate for one.
The SNP will hold special conference early in the new year to consider the details, but it is expected to set the bar at half of all votes cast for the party would be considered a vote for independence.
But Starmer said winning the next general election would give Labour a mandate to introduce the reforms proposed today.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown, who chaired the commission, said the was “no clear and decisive majority” for holding a second referendum but neither was there a majority for the status quo.
His report also included proposals to replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber to protect the devolution settlement.
An Assembly of the Nations and Regions would safeguard the UK constitution by ensuring the House of Commons does not make law in devolved areas without the consent of the respective administration, though there would be “an agreed procedure that sustains the primacy” of the Commons.
It also says there should be Scottish representation within key national bodies, including the Foreign Office, Bank of England and Ofgem.
Amending the current powers of the Scottish Government to allow it to enter into international agreements or join international bodies as they relate the devolved areas is also mooted.
The document says all 40 recommendations would “strengthen the United Kingdom” by making an “irreversible shift in opportunity, wealth and power”.
Speaking at the event, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “For 12 years in Scotland, people haven’t believed that we could deliver a Labour government and therefore deliver change. That’s the difference with this report.
“People believe a Labour government is possible. People know there is a better way of doing things and that will be delivered by Keir Starmer as our prime minister in the first term of a Labour government.”
Other recommendations in the report include:
- Promoting regional economic growth through a British Regional Investment Bank
- Moving 50,000 civil service jobs outside of London
- New fiscal powers for local government
- Creating a Council of the Nationals and Regions to drive cross-government cooperation
- Ban second jobs for MPs
- Laws to remove foreign money from UK politics
The report was launched first in Leeds on Monday morning, before a secondary event was held in Edinburgh.
Responding to the proposals, SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “After bigging it up for months and months, Gordon Brown has already undermined this report by saying Labour will ignore what the people of Scotland vote for if they reject Labour and impose theirs anyway. That is contemptuous. They are acting just like the Tories.”
The Scottish Conservatives said the SNP would “never be appeased by more devolved powers” and the current Scottish Government has “no interest in making the current set-up work”.
Party chair Craig Hoy added: “The present settlement strikes a good balance, and people in Scotland want their two governments to work together, especially when there are much more pressing issues to be focusing on, such as the global cost-of-living crisis and our struggling public services.”
The Scottish Lib Dems welcomed many of the proposals, but urged Labour to back ending the first-past-the-post electoral system. Christine Jardine MP said: “You can’t solve our broken politics without addressing the outdated unfair voting system, that sees millions of people living in safe seats taken for granted and denied a proper say.”
The Scottish Greens said the report “does not live up to the urgency of the situation we are in”. Co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “After years of promises and vows on devolution, it is clear that Labour are just reheating the failed ideas of the past. What they are offering will do nothing to protect Scotland from hostile UK governments, and that’s why it won’t halt the momentum for Scottish independence.”