John McDonnell sparks Labour civil war as he doubles down on Scottish independence comments

Posted On: 
7th August 2019

John McDonnell has sparked a furious backlash from Labour colleagues after he again insisted the party would not block a second independence referendum.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell being interviewed by journalist Graham Spiers at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
PA Images

The Shadow Chancellor initially signalled the dramatic shift in Labour policy during an appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe on Tuesday.

Mr McDonnell said: "The Scottish Parliament will come to a considered view on that and they will submit that to the Government and the English Parliament itself.

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"If the Scottish people decide they want a referendum that's for them."

He added: "We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That's democracy. There are other views within the party but that's our view."

Mr McDonnell was slapped down by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, who said another referendum was "unwanted by the Scottish people".

Meanwhile, a dozen Labour candidates who are lined up to contest Scottish seats at the next general election also signed an open letter opposing "indyref2".

They said: "We want to make it clear: we oppose another independence referendum; we are against the uncertainty and economic upheaval that leaving the UK would cause and; as the Tories threaten our place in Europe, we do not believe the answer to nationalism is more nationalism."

But in a second Fringe appearance on Wednesday, the Shadow Chancellor stuck to his guns.

He said: "What I said yesterday, that was not picked up, is actually what I want is a Labour government, and let us demonstrate as a Labour government what we can do to transform people's lives.

"And if, after a few years, people want to come back and say they want to test the water on an independence referendum then fair enough, that's up to the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament.

"I'm not here to block a democratic exercise by any means."

He added that Labour would not allow its MPs to be "set up" by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, by rejecting her demands for another vote.

"She's trying to say it's the big bad English yet again trying to prevent us holding a referendum," he said.

"No we're not. What we're saying is it's unnecessary. We will campaign against having a referendum, but we are not using parliamentary devices to block it — it's as simple as that."


But Ian Murray, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said Mr McDonnell should apologise to Mr Leonard, who earlier this year said the party would block another referendum.

"Scottish Labour policy is UK Labour policy, it was written in our manifesto in 2017, that we would oppose a second independence referendum,” he told the BBC.

"That’s clear, that’s the policy and we’ve had no explanation from John McDonnell apart from him doubling down again today on why he would even consider an off-the-cuff remark on this kind of policy…

"He’s got a lot of explaining to do, but firstly I think he should apologise to Richard Leonard because Richard Leonard is right. The policy is 'no to a second independence referendum'.”