Election 2019

General election 2019: Indyref2 needs pro-yes majority says Leonard

Richard Leonard

Labour would not block indyref2 if pro-independence parties win a majority at the next Holyrood election, according to Scottish leader Richard Leonard.

Mr Leonard said a Labour-led UK government would grant the powers to hold a second independence referendum in this scenario.

However, he also said he still opposed breaking up the UK.

Mr Leonard also promised "further consultation" on controversial plans for an oil and gas windfall tax.

The Scottish Labour leader was speaking in a live interview and phone-in session on BBC Radio Scotland, which all of the country's main party leaders will take part in during the election campaign.

Labour's position on a second independence referendum has been the subject of much focus during the election campaign.

Nicola Sturgeon has claimed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will have little choice but to back a second independence referendum if he wants to be prime minister and Boris Johnson has ruled out giving permission for another vote while he is prime minister.

Mr Leonard said his opposition to independence had not changed but added: "If the SNP or other parties put in their manifesto that they wanted to hold a second independence referendum and they got a mandate for that, either in 2021 or at some future point, then of course what we are saying is that would not be blocked by a UK Labour Westminster government."

Shifting the debate on independence

The Central Scotland MSP said that the independence question is a "battle that will be won or lost in Scotland" but an issue that could be reframed by the election of a Labour UK government.

He said: "The terms of the debate on the constitutional position in Scotland would change because, instead of a UK government which is embarking upon a programme of austerity, you would see a UK government embarking upon a programme of significant investment in both the economy and public services."

Mr Leonard also claimed the prospect of a second Brexit vote under Labour and the chance of the UK staying in the EU would also weaken the SNP's argument for a second independence referendum.

Image caption At the Scottish Labour general election manifesto launch Mr Leonard said the party's free school meals pledge was part of Labour's plan for "transformational change" across Scotland and the UK

The Scottish Labour manifesto promised a windfall tax of the profits of the oil and gas industry.

The idea has been controversial, especially in the north east of Scotland where many people are employed in the sector, and Mr Leonard used his interview to suggest it would be subject to consultation in the event of a UK Labour government being elected.

He said: "We think there ought to be a windfall tax on the profits of the oil and gas sector; the level at which that is pitched, when that is introduced, is a matter of consultation and negotiation.

"It will form a fund to enable those currently employed in the oil and gas sector to change their occupation and roles into other part of the economy."

Mr Leonard also said the money raised from the levy is not an "intrinsic part" of Labour's spending plans.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Concerns over Labour's proposed windfall tax on the oil and gas industry have been raised given the sector is still recovering from a recent downturn in fortunes

On Brexit, Mr Leonard said he would again campaign to remain if there was a second Brexit referendum, in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn who said he would remain neutral on the issue if prime minister.

Elsewhere, Mr Leonard suggested a Labour promise to compensate more than three million women who lost out on years of state pension payments when their retirement age was raised could be funded by borrowing.

It has been estimated this policy would cost £58bn and the Scottish Labour leader said governments can borrow money to pay for "exceptional items", insisting it is "the right thing to do".

On a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon said Labour would not "walk away" from a deal with the SNP if it allowed the party to get the keys to Number 10.

Boris Johnson has ruled out granting a "section 30 order" - which grants permission for a new referendum from the UK government - while he is prime minister, arguing the issue is settled as, "the people of Scotland, were told in 2014 that that was a once-in-a-generation event".

The Liberal Democrats have said a second referendum on the future of the UK is unnecessary and would be "divisive" with Scottish leader Willie Rennie claiming his party was "unique" in this election by opposing both Brexit and independence.

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