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Richard Leonard: “There will be no independence referendum for years. Scotland won’t want one if we win an election”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on the campaign trail.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard on the campaign trail.

Richard Leonard yesterday told independence supporters not to expect a second referendum any time soon under a Labour government.

The Scottish Labour leader spoke out the day after Nicola Sturgeon made a rerun of the independence poll a condition of her support for Jeremy Corbyn’s government in the event of a hung parliament.

Mr Leonard said there would be no referendum in the “formative years” of a Labour government at Westminster and insisted that tackling austerity would reduce support for independence.

Labour’s position on Scottish independence will be confirmed after a so-called “clause five” meeting, which will draw up the party’s manifesto, next Saturday.

Mr Leonard, who has led his party for two years, said: “We have said we oppose independence and therefore oppose a second independence referendum, which we think is both undesirable and unnecessary.

“The formative years of a Labour government will be occupied with sorting out the Brexit chaos, the reversal of austerity and the need to invest in infrastructure and public services, giving people a decent increase in their living standards and getting the country ready for the changes we need to make to meet our climate change obligations.

“They’ll be the priorities of a Labour government.”

Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday the price of co-operating with Labour was an independence referendum.

But Mr Leonard said if Labour won the most seats in the General Election on December 12 but not an overall majority, it would form a minority government with “no deals, no pacts, no coalitions” with any other party. Labour would then set out its policies in a Queen’s Speech.

“It would be up to the SNP to decide if they want to vote for it, and if they do not vote for it, potentially it could bring down that government.

“They would then have to explain to the people of Scotland why they haven’t supported a Queen’s Speech that is intended to spend £70billion of new public expenditure on housing, the NHS and our industrial base.”

Scotland voted against independence by 55% to 45% in 2014, but recent opinion polls suggested that support for Scottish self-rule has increased to around 50%.

But Mr Leonard said: “It is my belief that the election of a radical, transformative Labour government will eclipse the case for the creation of a separate Scottish state.

“I think when people see the benefits of a Labour government which is redistributing power and wealth around the country, the appetite for independence will diminish.”

He added: “We think the election of a Labour government in 2019 at a UK level will completely reframe the terms of debate around the constitutional questions in Scotland.”

On Friday an opinion poll showed support for Scottish Labour has fallen dramatically over the last two years.

The YouGov poll put Labour in fourth place on 12%, down from 27% at the 2017 General Election.

The polling website, the Electoral Calculus, suggests that this could leave Labour with just one MP in Scotland, the same number they won in 2015.

Mr Leonard spoke to The Sunday Post while campaigning in Pollok in the marginal Westminster seat of Glasgow South West.

The SNP won the seat two years ago with a majority of just 60, with a swing of 12% to Labour. Their candidate, Matt Kerr, is contesting the seat again.

Mr Leonard said: “We know that in 2017 the polls showed Labour over 20 points behind the Tories, and over the course of the campaign when we started getting broadcast media coverage and got our message across on the doorsteps there was a huge transformation in people’s voting intentions.

“We saw not only a rise in the number of Labour MPs in Scotland, from just one up to seven, but in many seats, including this one, there was less than 100 votes between the SNP and Labour.”

In an open letter to Labour supporters yesterday, Conservative MSP Annie Wells urged them to vote for her party to stop another independence referendum.

She wrote: “It is not the Labour Party of old.

“It’s certainly not the Labour Party of Red Clydeside or of Donald Dewar.

“It’s not even the Labour Party of Gordon Brown, who so passionately defended the union in the last moments of the 2014 referendum campaign.”

Meanwhile, Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said the Conservatives were losing support with Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister and Scottish leader Ruth Davidson resigning.

He said: “We need to learn the lessons of Brexit, not repeat the mistakes with independence. That’s why I am directly appealing to everyone who wants to end the constitutional division to come with us.”