Socialist Worker

Scottish independence referendum stirs up Labour crisis

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2667

Huge numbers marching for independence in May

Huge numbers marching for independence in May (Pic: Andrew McGowan)

Right wing Labour Party politicians exploded with anger last week after shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggested a Labour government wouldn’t block a second Scottish independence referendum.

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in Scotland support independence as an opportunity to break from decades of right wing rule from Westminster.

But Labour members of the Scottish parliament branded a second referendum “divisive and unnecessary” after McDonnell’s comments at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on Wednesday of last week.

McDonnell said he was against a second referendum, but thought a Labour government should allow one if the Scottish parliament voted for it.

Yet the right reacted as if he had gone much further and come out for independence.

They accused him of attempting to undermine the Scottish Labour Party and its left wing leader Richard Leonard. A statement by Scottish Labour MSPs said, “We deplore any attempts to undermine the official policy position of the Scottish Labour Party.

“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.”

And Labour’s right wing deputy leader Tom Watson stuck his oar in with a statement on Sunday.

“As we said in our 2017 manifesto, Labour opposes another referendum,” he said.


In a video branded with the Union Jack, he added, “More nationalism, more uncertainty and more division isn’t the answer.”

In fact McDonnell actually said Labour would “campaign against having a referendum but we’re not using parliamentary devices to block it”.

This timid suggestion did not contradict what was in Labour’s 2017 manifesto, which said that Labour opposes a referendum and would “campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK.”

But it did contradict a speech by Leonard, who said last year that a Labour government would block a referendum.

Some speculated that McDonnell’s comments were an appeal to the Scottish National Party (SNP) to support a Labour government in a hung parliament.

McDonnell denied this was the case.

But it was enough to outrage right wing Labour politicians who are committed to defending the British state—even if it means the death of their party in Scotland.

Labour’s vote crashed after it lined up with the Tories during the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.

Even Margaret Curran, a former Scottish Labour minister, admitted earlier this month that the party was now “irrelevant” to people in Scotland.

Turning that around would mean backing a vision for independence that rejected the austerity of both the Tory British government and the SNP Scottish government.

But Labour politicians are so wedded to the British state that they won’t even let ordinary people have a say

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.