Confusion surrounded Labour’s position tonight on a second referendum on Scottish independence after Jeremy Corbyn rowed back from an initial refusal to grant one during his first term in office.
During a tour of three constituencies across Greater Glasgow, as he began a 48-hour period of campaigning north of the Border on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn again ran into trouble on the constitution after he pulled back from earlier comments that he would deny an IndyRef2 in the first five years of a Labour government at Westminster.
Boris Johnson said the Labour leader’s stance would result in a “Corbyn-Sturgeon technicolour coalition of chaos”.
Mr Corbyn had told reporters there would be “no referendum in the first term for a Labour government” if he took power following next month’s general election - even if the SNP won a majority of Scottish seats.
But party aides immediately began to dampen the comments to say the position could change if Nicola Sturgeon’s party retains power at the next Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2021.
Hours later, Mr Corbyn told reporters gathered in Tannochside, on the outskirts of Glasgow, that he instead did “not countenance” another independence referendum in “the early years” of a Labour government during a combative exchange with reporters.
“I think the confusion is with you, if I may say so, not me,” he said in an interview at a miners welfare club in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire.
“We will not countenance an indy referendum in the early years of a Labour government because our priorities will be elsewhere.”
Pressed further on whether he would grant a vote if the SNP took Holyrood, Mr Corbyn replied: “I’m not in favour of it at all because I think the priorities for Scotland are ending inequality, poverty and injustice across Scotland and independence will bring with it an economic problem for Scotland.”
The Labour leader’s comments were seized on by Mr Johnson. The Prime Minister used a speech in Coventry last night to warn against what he called a “nightmare on Downing Street, a Corbyn-Sturgeon technicolour coalition of chaos” - and he drew attention to the growing confusion over Labour’s position on IndyRef2.
“What does Corbyn want? What would he do if the Corbyn-Sturgeon coalition were actually to form a government in this country? [It’s] his only path to power,” the Prime Minister said.
Asked by The Scotsman whether he was misleading voters by warning of two referendums in 2020, when Labour has ruled out IndyRef2 next year, Mr Johnson claimed the opposition leader would be unable to resist the SNP’s demands.
“First of all, Corbyn himself has said that he would have a referendum but not immediately and Nicola Sturgeon who is his path to power, his yokemate of destiny, who says she wants it next year,” he said.
“It is hard to see how Jeremy Corbyn could very easily turn her down if that were to be the condition that she would put on a coalition as she surely would.”
Mr Corbyn’s earlier dismissal had angered the SNP as Labour tries to take back some of the seats it lost to the Nationalists, who won a landslide victory in Scotland’s 59 constituencies in the 2015 General Election.
Although Labour made a slight recovery in the 2017 ballot, the SNP still has 35 Scottish constituencies in the last Parliament.
SNP social justice spokesman Neil Gray said: “With the once-dominant Scottish Labour Party now at the point of extinction and Labour voters turning to the SNP, Jeremy Corbyn is in absolutely no position to tell the people of Scotland if and when they can have a say over their own future.
“As we have made crystal clear, no one looking for support from the SNP after this election should bother to even pick up the phone unless they are prepared to accept the democratically expressed will of Scotland.”
Mr Corbyn also said he did not intend to work with the SNP in government if Labour fails to win a majority - but did not rule it out.
“We are not fighting this election to form a coalition with anybody and we have no intention of forming a coalition with anyone. We are not doing deals, we are not doing pacts,” he said.
At the first speech of his Scottish tour, held at Scotstoun community centre in Glasgow, Mr Corbyn tried to dissuade voters from backing the SNP by stressing only Labour or the Tories could form a UK Government.
“I want to lead a Labour government in the UK who will work with a Scottish Labour government to develop the economy in Scotland,” he said.
He continued: “This is a general election where there is a simple choice about the government you want in Westminster - it’s either going to be a Conservative government, or a Labour government. Nobody else is going to form a government.
“Our manifesto will be coming out shortly and it will be inspiring in so many ways. I’ve got draft copies - but I’m not allowed to show you. It got leaked last time (in 2017) - but I am grateful as it gave everyone a sneak preview.
“But what it will mean is that in Scotland we will be investing £77bn in capital investment projects in a green industrial revolution. In jobs for the future, in hopes for young people.
“It will also be dealing with the grotesque levels of inequality that exist across the UK.”