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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Jeremy Corbyn says he won't grant Scottish independence referendum in 'early years' of Labour government

5 min read

A Labour government would not bow to the SNP's demand for a second Scottish independence referendum until at least 2021, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The Labour leader said no fresh referendum on Scotland's place in the UK would take place in the "early years" of his government, as he rejected calls to grant a vote within the first year of Labour taking office.

No second Scottish referendum can take place without the agreement of Westminster, which would have to hand Holyrood the power to trigger one under a so-called 'Section 30 order'.

But the SNP has demanded that a second referendum take place in 2020, and has made clear that it will pressure Mr Corbyn over a second referendum in exchange for supporting his party if he leads a minority government after the general election.

Asked on Sunday if he could promise the SNP's Ian Blackford a referendum within the first year of a Labour government, Mr Corbyn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "No. I can't give him that commitment."

But he refused to rule out handing Scots a vote within Labour's first term in office, saying only that no referendum would take place "up until" the scheduled Holyrood elections in 2021.

"There are Scottish elections in 2021 which obviously I hope Labour win in Holyrood," he said. "But I think up until then, certainly."

The Labour leader also pushed back at the suggestion the SNP could refuse to support him in the House of Commons over the timetable for a second independence referendum, arguing that the Scottish party faced a choice between enabling either a Labour or Tory government.

"We're not doing deal with anybody," he said.

"We're not forming coalition governments. We will put forward the programme on which we will have been elected which is the one of investment.

"And my view is that the issue of an independence referendum should not come in the early years of that government...

"The people of Scotland will see the benefits of a Labour government in Westminster that treats the needs of Scotland very seriously."

Directly challenging the SNP, he said: "The SNP will have a choice: do they want to put Boris Johnson back in, with all the austerity economics that they claim to be against? Or are they going to say, well a Labour government is going to deliver for Scotland?"


But the comments came as Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said both Mr Corbyn and Boris Johnson had gotten into a "mess" in Scotland by continuing to block SNP demands.

Writing in the pro-independence Sunday National, the SNP leader said: "The Tory pitch to voters in Scotland is that it doesn’t matter how you vote in this election – we’re going to ignore you.

"Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn came north and managed to articulate three different positions on a Scottish referendum in barely 24 hours, as his Scottish Labour branch office colleagues looked on ashen-faced."

She added: "Like Boris Johnson, he claims he wants to block the people of Scotland from choosing their own future. He just can’t decide for how long - which I strongly suspect is a sign that he know the position is democratically indefensible.

"But both Mr Corbyn and Mr Johnson know that they cannot simply ignore a clear statement from the people of Scotland – expressed repeatedly and democratically in elections – that they wish to be given a say over their own future."


Elsewhere in his Andrew Marr show interview, Mr Corbyn was grilled about Labour's position on the free movement of people after Brexit.

Delegates at the party's annual conference backed a motion vowing to "maintain and extend" freedom of movement - a policy the Conservatives have said would lead to a large increase in net immigration.

But it has been reported that the pledge was watered down at a crucial meeting on Saturday aimed at thrashing out the party's election manifesto, which is set to be unveiled on Thursday.

Asked whether freedom of movement would now end after Britain leaves the EU, Mr Corbyn said: "There will be a great deal of movement."

But he added: "You'll have to wait until Thursday. I know you're very impatient... You'll know on Thursday."

Setting out his personal view on free movement, the Labour leader said: "My instinct is to recognise that economies are interdependent around the world, that we all benefit from people moving to, living in and working in different societies and we benefit massively from the vast number of overseas students that come here.

"I don't want to turn my back on that, I don't want us to become an isolated society. I'm proud of the diversity of our society and our country and I want that to be the basis of how we live."

But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Labour was now in favour of "open door immigration, not just from Europe but from the rest of the world".

The Tories on Sunday unveiled their own raft of immigration pledges, including a plan to increase an NHS surcharge paid by non-EU nationals who move to the UK and impose the £625 levy on EU migrants for the first time.

Newcomers to Britain will also be expected to wait for five years before being given access to state benefits.

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