Scotland politics

Owen Smith 'would not oppose' Scottish independence vote

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Media captionLabour leadership candidate Owen Smith: Views on Brexit, independence and renewing Trident

Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith has said he would not oppose a second Scottish independence referendum.

Mr Smith is challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership and has the support of Scottish party leader Kezia Dugdale.

He told the BBC that "of course" he would not oppose a second independence vote but said it would be down to Scottish Labour to decide the party's position on the issue.

Scottish Labour has committed itself to opposing a second referendum.

The Scottish government is to start drawing up legislation for a second poll, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying such an outcome is "highly likely" in the wake of the UK's vote to leave the European Union.

Mr Smith, who supports having a second vote on EU membership, was questioned on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme over his stance on Scotland.

'Much better off'

When asked if he would oppose a second referendum, Mr Smith said: "Of course not."

He continued: "If the Scottish people chose that that's what they wanted, and there was agreement in the Labour Party, that would be for them to determine it.

"But my point is that I think Scotland is much better off within the UK, and I think the Scottish people did vote by a margin of 10% to stay in, and the recent GERS numbers we've seen showing how Scotland benefits from being part of the wider UK is illustration of the core point we made during the referendum, which is that Scotland benefits from sharing the resources of the rest of the UK."

Analysis by BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor

When one is standing for significant office in public life, it does not do to sound indecisive. Voters tend not to cleave to potential leaders who, when asked about a major policy issue, reply: "Me? Not a clue. What am I like, eh?"

And so Owen Smith was admirably concise and definitive when asked on the wireless whether he would oppose a second independence referendum. "Of course not", he declared.

Then, as he thought further, the caveats arrived. The Scottish Labour Party would take the decision on whether to endorse such a plebiscite.

It would be driven, if at all, by demand from the Scottish people. And Labour continued to believe that Scotland's future properly lay within the UK.

Was this, then, in total a concise, clear statement of Labour's position from one of the contenders to lead the party (the other being the incumbent Jeremy Corbyn)? To borrow Mr Smith's formula, of course not.

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Image caption Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has spoken out against holding a second independence referendum

Asked if Scottish Labour should discuss the issue of backing independence, Mr Smith said there were "many things that are far more pressing and important than re-running the referendum in Scotland, on which there was a clear decision just a few months ago."

He added: "It would be for the SNP to choose to put that to the Scottish people, and it's for the Scottish people ultimately to determine whether that's what they want.

"I think it would be for the leadership of the Scottish Labour party to determine what our position is in respect of that. I'm very clear that I want Scotland to stay in the UK."

Mr Smith told a Labour leadership debate in Glasgow that he thought Ms Dugdale was doing a "brilliant job", and Mr Corbyn urged party members to "respect" her after jeering from some sections of the audience.

Manifesto commitment

Scottish Labour made opposing a second independence referendum during the current parliamentary term a manifesto commitment for the 2016 elections.

Party deputy leader Alex Rowley has since said he would not oppose a second vote.

Ms Dugdale has said that it would be wrong for the UK government to block a referendum if it were backed by the Scottish people, but reiterated that the party's formal position is one of opposition.

Following the Brexit vote, she said Scotland did not need "more turmoil, more upheaval and more economic chaos", which she said would result from a second referendum.

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Image caption Mr Smith and Mr Corbyn held a Labour leadership debate in Glasgow

And on Tuesday, following a discussion of the SNP's original plan for an independent Scotland to share the pound, she said: "What we have today works. Being part of the UK means we can use the pound and have access to the Bank of England in times of difficulty for our economy. That's a positive argument for remaining in the UK.

"Being part of the UK is good for Scotland and means more money to spend on public services like schools and hospitals.

"Instead of agitating for a second independence referendum the SNP should focus on the bread and butter issues of government, like getting people back into work and giving everybody a fair chance in life."

The Scottish Conservatives said the issue was further evidence of "a Labour party in complete chaos".

Chief whip John Lamont said: "First Scottish Labour's deputy leader said he would not oppose a second referendum, then the Scottish leader slapped him down, only now for Owen Smith to back him up.

"Labour is in a mess and its lack of leadership on this most vital of issues is letting down thousands of people across Scotland who back our place in the UK and want political parties to stand up for that."

The SNP welcomed "a Labour voice acknowledging that it is ultimately for the Scottish people to decide on a second referendum".

However, MSP Gordon MacDonald noted that Mr Smith was "completely at odds with Scottish Labour on a second referendum and on Trident", and said that Labour "campaigning shoulder to shoulder with the Tories during the referendum" had "haunted" the party since.

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