There’s more to the John McDonnell Scottish independence story than people are letting on

The howls of outrage in Scottish Labour don't seem to be as unanimous as previously thought.

Outrage aplenty in Scottish Labour this week, when John McDonnell suggested a Labour government in Westminster would not block a second independence referendum.

It looked like a united front, with the Shadow Chancellor accused of ‘undermining’ party policy north of the border, in a statement by Labour MSPs. But it seems there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

The statement – purportedly from a majority of Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament, said:

“We deplore any attempts to undermine the official policy position of the Scottish Labour Party and we express serious concerns about an apparent change in Labour’s position on a matter of vital importance to the future of Scotland and of the Scottish Labour Party itself.

“Scottish party policy is very clear – that is opposition to a second independence referendum.”

However, the (pro-indy) news site CommonSpace reports that the statement was far from unanimous. It was opposed by several Labour MSPs – including the group executive, with the group leader urging the ‘kamikaze’ MSPs not to send it out. A leaked email from Jackie Baillie MSP stated: 

“I have consulted Richard [Leonard, party leader]as I am required to do by standing orders, and it is fair to say that he does not want the statement to go out. Let me stress again that the Group Executive wanted to be very clear in our support for Richard’s position.”

A senior Scottish Labour source told the site that the statement by some Labour MSPs was ‘about trying to undermine Richard Leonard, Jeremy Corbyn and the socialist leadership of Labour North and South of the border.’ Richard Leonard is on the left of the Labour party and an ally of Jeremy Corbyn.

Left-wing MSP Neil Findlay later appeared to back up McDonnell, writing on Facebook that Westminster should not block a second indy ref if there was a clear mandate for it in Scotland.

Findlay wrote: “I oppose a second independence referendum. I would not vote for independence in any future referendum as I believe independence will be very damaging to the people and communities I have represented since 2003.

“But I accept the right of the Government of Scotland in Holyrood to pursue the right to hold a referendum if there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament for it and they have made clear their intention in their manifesto at the previous election.”

Scottish Labour activist Mike Williamson told Left Foot Forward:

“He probably should have considered how his comments would have been interpreted by the press, but the substance of McDonnell’s comments are the only position a democrat could take. It would be an outrage if there were legitimate calls for another referendum from a Scottish Government with a majority mandate for doing so, and it was blocked by a Labour government at Westminster.

“Labour can oppose independence but it needs to win that argument from within Scotland. I also wish those representatives who had a problem with McDonnell’s comments had raised it through the proper internal channels rather than doing our washing in public. I think some of them are more interested in damaging the party than in changing anybody’s mind.”

Many comments appeared to equate McDonnell’s refusal for Westminster to block another referendum to full-throated backing for independence.

There’s some interesting intellectual knots being tied when a party demands total policy independence from the UK-wide party…while at the same time asking the UK-wide party to veto a future independence vote taking place.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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4 Responses to “There’s more to the John McDonnell Scottish independence story than people are letting on”

  1. Tom Sacold

    As always the Blairites are trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership

  2. Dave Roberts

    So did he say it or didn’t he? Simples, or is it?

  3. David T

    Dave Roberts said: ‘So did he say it or didn’t he?’

    Did he say what?

  4. Gary

    Well, there IS a mandate from the Scottish Parliament for a second referendum. Holyrood voted on it and it passed. When the Edinburgh Act was passed initially the SNP said that they wouldn’t request a Section 30 unless there was a material change in Scotland’s circumstances such as “Scotland being dragged out of the EU against her will” All of those circumstances currently exist and, as per the agreement, Holyrood obtained it’s majority to request a Section 30 and asked for it and was refused out of hand for no reason other than “Now is not the time” So, what I’m saying is, why didn’t Corbyn support Scotland’s right to determine her own future?

    Many felt that in saying what they said this week Labour were perhaps going to be amenable to some sort of arrangement between themselves and SNP (short of a coalition) to ensure, as Sturgeon put it, “the Tories are locked out of No10” Whether that be support for a Labour minority government or after a GE.

    Scottish Labour have taken a VERY hard line against independence and co-operated and took money from Tory voters during the Independence campaign back in 2014. The campaign itself was led by Alistair Darling and his dirty tricks and bile were utterly shameful. The electorate punished Labour at the very next opportunity and, after almost 50 years unchallenged as the foremost party of Scotland they are languishing as a third party now, similar to the LibDems position in Westminster. Far from doing anything to alleviate this they have continued to alienate their own core support. Lifelong Labour voters have deserted them in disgust. They have taken on, in the words of Scottish Labour’s Ian Murray, a position of “uber unionism” which plainly has cost them more and more support and goes contrary to Labour’s founding principles as well as the wording of the Edinburgh Act. In short it is anti-democratic to oppose the will of the parliament of which you are part (Holyrood in this case)

    Corbyn & McDonnell’s views may win back support should Scottish Labour adopt them. Corbyn is VERY popular in Scotland but the Scottish branch of the party is putting people off voting for them.

    With the majority of Scotland’s population wishing for their country to be independent and the Scottish parliament having voted a majority in favour of asking for a referendum to get that independence how much longer should it be held in a union it doesn’t want to be in?

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