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Corbyn: Second independence referendum 'should be held'

The UK Labour leader said he would be 'fine' with a fresh vote on the question.

By STV News

Published 11 Mar 2017.

A second independence referendum "should be held", the UK Labour leader has said.

In an interview with the Press Association, Jeremy Corbyn has said he is "fine" with a fresh poll on the independence question.

His position puts him at odds with his counterparts in the Scottish party who have consistently opposed a fresh vote being held.

Corbyn's comments have been criticised by two senior Scottish Labour figures.

When asked if an independence referendum was inevitable, Corbyn said: "If a referendum is held then it is absolutely fine, it should be held.

"I don't think it's the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda.

"I do think we should set it within the context of the economic relationship with the rest of the UK and the question of devolution of EU to English regions and to Scotland, and to parts of Scotland rather than just to the government in Holyrood, because the principle of regionalism is it goes to everybody within a region, not just to the central powers and the SNP have a bit of a tendency to centralise things arounds themselves."

The UK Labour leader also said if there was a vote in the House of Commons about a second independence referendum then his party "wouldn't block it".

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a fresh vote is "highly likely" following the UK-wide decision to leave the European Union last year.

In response to his remarks, a source close to Jeremy Corbyn said: "Westminster blocking a second referendum would give the SNP exactly what they want - more grievance.

"Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right to oppose a second referendum at Holyrood and to keep the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to rule one out.

"However any hypothetical deal on a second referendum is highly premature as there would need to be lengthy negotiations around the timing and the question on the ballot paper, given the remain/leave precedent set in the EU referendum.

"All of these negotiations would happen at a time when the SNP should be focused on education, where attainment is falling, on the NHS, which faces a workforce crisis,and on our economy which sees 220,000 Scottish children live in poverty.

"Next week Nicola Sturgeon must rule out a second referendum and get back to the bread and butter issues."

Scotland's only Labour MP, Ian Murray, said Corbyn is "destroying party" with his comments.

Murray resigned as a shadow Scottish secretary last year.

He tweeted: "Often asked why I resigned from Shadow Cabinet.

"Ladies & Gentlemen I give u Jeremy Corbyn. He's destroying the party that soo many need."

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie called the remarks "misguided and irresponsible" and an "insult" to Scottish Labour members and activists.

She added: "Jeremy Corbyn does not speak for me on this and it's clear that he does not speak for many of his MPs who - unlike him - took the time to come to Scotland to fight for the Union and saw first hand how divisive the SNP's referendum was."

The Scottish Government has put in place draft legislation to hold a referendum if it decides it is the best way to "protect" the country's relationship with Europe.

Holyrood, however, does not have the power to legally hold the vote without first seeking and gaining permission from the UK Government.

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: "Jeremy Corbyn clearly doesn't understand that most people in Scotland don't want another divisive referendum.

"A second referendum on independence should not take take place and, unlike Mr Corbyn, the Scottish Conservatives will not support the SNP in making it any easier to take place.

"The less he says on this issue, the better."

In response to his comments, SNP MSP Stuart McMillan said: "Nick Clegg and Jeremy Corbyn have both recognised the Scottish Government's cast-iron democratic mandate for a second independence referendum if that is the chosen route to protect our national interests. This was a specific manifesto commitment on which the SNP was re-elected just ten months ago.

"Scotland voted clearly and decisively to remain in the EU: not for an economically disastrous Tory hard Brexit outside the Single Market, and yet Lib Dem and Labour MSPs will happily sit on their hands and let that happen.

"It's embarrassing that Lib Dem and Labour in Holyrood want to deny Scotland the opportunity to avoid a damaging hard Tory Brexit while Corbyn and Clegg agree that it would be wrong to block Scotland having a choice on our future if that is what is needed.