Alistair Darling: Second independence referendum unlikely

Alistair Darling has warned the Scottish Labour party not to shift leftwards in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Alistair Darling has warned the Scottish Labour party not to shift leftwards in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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ALISTAIR Darling has warned the Scottish Labour Party against veering towards the left after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as UK party leader – and also said that though it was unlikely Scots would rush to stage a second independence referendum, it would be “daft to deny” the electorate another one if they wanted it.

The former Labour chancellor dismissed the suggestion that the left-winger’s leadership would be the key to the recovery of the party’s fortunes in Scotland.

Mr Corbyn has said next year’s Scottish Parliament election will be one of his top priorities after Labour’s disastrous general election defeat in Scotland at the hands of the SNP in May.

Mr Darling said Labour’s position in Scotland was “recoverable” but urged Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale not to move away from the centre ground in an attempt to take on Nicola Sturgeon’s party.

He told the Herald newspaper: “The Nationalists are quintessentially New Labour in their approach. They are parked in the centre ground.

“That’s why it would be a huge mistake for the Labour Party to think it should be pitching to the left.

“You cannot win an election in Scotland or the UK unless you take the majority of people with you, which means you do need to take the middle ground with you as well.”

He said he was unable to see a “silver lining” to Mr Corbyn’s election, adding that he was “not quite sure what he’s for”.

Unrest in the party over Mr Corbyn’s victory is continuing to boil over with Labour former chancellor Alistair Darling the latest senior figure to raise concerns.

He told The Herald: “I’m still at a loss over what (Mr Corbyn) is going to do. I know what he’s against but I’m not quite sure what he’s for.

“People were not inspired by the other three candidates and Corbyn was different.

“He’s not new but he is different.

“I’ll wait to see what he comes up with. I do believe most clouds have a silver lining but don’t actually see the silver lining at the moment.”

Mr Corbyn was met with “hostile” questions as he addressed MPs and peers for the first time as leader last night at the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Labour MP Simon Danczuk described the meeting as “sombre” and said leader faced “a number of pointed questions” on his position on the EU, Nato and renewal of Trident.

He told the BBC: “There’s no doubt about it that a good proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party were concerned in relation to some of the policy positions that he has and they are hoping and expecting that he will moderate some of these views - not just to appeal to the Parliamentary Labour Party but to appeal to the wider electorate.”

Mr Danczuk claimed the Conservatives would “lay a number of traps” for Labour.

“We can’t just wait until 2020 or 2019 to reach some conclusions, we have to make decisions more quickly,” he added.

“Prevaricating on the European Union - are we going to support being in or are we going to support being out? - is something that he will have to conclude relatively quickly.”

Mr Darling, who led the cross-party Better Together campaign during last year’s referendum on Scottish independence, also said he does not believe the majority of people in Scotland want a second referendum on the issue any time soon, arguing the economic case for independence was now “much more difficult to make”.

But he did admit that if Scots wanted another referendum on the issue then another one should be staged.

“My view is if people really, genuinely want to have a vote you are daft to deny it,” he told the Times.

“It’s a bit like in Spain: the Spanish government seem determined not to hold a referendum [on Catalan independence] which always seemed to me to be just fanning the flames.

“But I don’t think people in Scotland are saying we would love another referendum tomorrow morning. It was an exhausting campaign for everyone I think, so I just don’t see that happening.”

SNP MSP Sandra White said: “The fact is that people in Scotland will never forget the way Alistair Darling and Labour worked hand in glove with the Tories in the No campaign throughout the referendum - people in Scotland simply cannot trust Labour any more.

“At a time when we need strong opposition to the Tories, Jeremy Corbyn leads a deeply, and very bitterly, divided party.

“And if Labour cannot show that they are capable of winning the next UK general election, many more people in Scotland are likely to conclude that independence is the only alternative to continued Tory government.”