Jeremy Corbyn denies claims he’s a unionist amid confusion over Scottish indy stance

Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images
Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images
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Jeremy Corbyn has stated he is “not a unionist” as he came under fire over his shifting position on granting a Scottish independence referendum if he wins the election.

The UK Labour’s leader brought the curtain down on a mini Scottish tour with a rally in front of hundreds of supporters in Edinburgh’s McEwan Hall last night, but it was a trip which was marked by controversy.

Pro-union opponents attacked his credibility on protecting Scotland’s place in the UK as he again hinted that he could back a referendum as prime minister.

And asked if he would “consider himself a unionist” last night, he said: “No… I would consider myself a socialist.”

It prompted an angry response from opponents.

Tory MSP Annie Wells hit out, saying: “It seems Jeremy Corbyn came to Scotland just to tell No voters he’d sell them out.”

Liberal Democrat election campaign chair Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “For once, Jeremy Corbyn has given a straight answer but it is one that will be deeply dismaying for the majority of Scots. He will never fight for Scotland’s place in the UK.”

It came after Mr Corbyn appeared to adopt a third position on granting an independence referendum if he becomes prime minister over his two days in Scotland.

He had claimed on Tuesday morning as he kicked off his trip north of the Border there would be no referendum in the first term of Labour government if he becomes prime minister. This position later shifted to him not granting a second referendum in the “early years” of a Labour government.

And in an interview yesterday, Mr Corbyn appeared to shift again with a new deadline.

The Labour leader said he would “certainly not” hold a referendum “in the first two years of the government”, when asked if the 2021 Holyrood election result could play a part in whether to hold a referendum.

The latest shift was derided by Nicola Sturgeon who is demanding the right to hold a second referendum next year.

She tweeted: “Yesterday it was ‘not in the first term’. Today, it’s ‘not in the first two years’. By the end of the week, at this rate, Corbyn will be demanding #indyref2020.”

SNP MPs, expected to rise in number from the 35 they in the last Parliament, could hold the balance of power after the election. Ms Sturgeon made it clear that she would not back Corbyn as prime minister in the event of a hung Parliament after the 12 December election.

But it prompted an angry response from Labour’s Scottish leader Richard Leonard last night who said the SNP was effectively ready to allow Boris Johnson into Downing Street.

“Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP…are saying they would be prepared to vote down a Labour government,” he said.

“It is clearer than ever that the only way to ensure Boris Johnson’s Tories are replaced with a transformative Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn is to return Scottish Labour MPs at the general election.”

Corbyn has also faced repeated heckling during his visit, and yesterday a woman with a baby in a pram shouted at the Labour leader after his speech in front of Linlithgow’s Burgh Halls, saying he could end up “arm-in-arm with Nicola Sturgeon”. Mr Corbyn said: “I don’t want another referendum either.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” she replied, walking off with her crying baby.