Keir Starmer: Nicola Sturgeon's record in government 'appalling'

Nicola Sturgeon’s record in government is “appalling” with the SNP shielding themselves from criticism with the constitutional debate, the leader of the Labour Party has said.

The comments from Sir Keir Starmer come as his party continues to falter in the UK-wide polls, with Anas Sarwar also struggling to make inroads into the SNP’s lead or the Scottish Conservatives stranglehold on second place.

The SNP said Labour’s performance at the ballot box in May at the Holyrood election and in the polls demonstrates Starmer’s poor leadership.

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Speaking to Scottish journalists, the Labour leader rejected the suggestion there was any clamour in Scotland for a second independence referendum, but failed to offer a route to independence for Scotland should he succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

Sir Keir Starmer criticised Nicola Sturgeon's record labelling it "appalling".

Asked for the democractic process through which Scotland could become independent, Starmer said the current focus on the pandemic was the right one.

He said: “We're in a position now where despite all the noises off...there seems to be a pretty strong political consensus that we have got to get on with the recovery and kickstarting the economy and public services in Scotland and that should be the focus.

“Despite all the noise, actually I think pretty well all the parties and certainly the Labour party is clear that has to be the focus at the moment.”

Pressed on the issue of whether the union would stop being based on consent if the response from Westminster to calls for independence continues to be silence, the party leader said the question was “hypothetical” and Scotland was “not at that stage”.

Nicola Sturgeon has promised a second independence referendum in 2023.

He then launched into an attack of Nicola Sturgeon’s record.

Referencing the First Minister’s pleas asking voters to judge her on her record, Starmer said the repeated focus on the constitution was being used strategically to block legitimate criticism of the SNP’s time in government.

He said: “The other thing that frustrates me is that this is consistently being used particularly by the SNP to mask their record.

"I think Nicola Sturgeon said that she wants to be judged on her record, but if you look at her record on education, it's appalling, if you look at her record on health and the health service it is appalling.

"Last time I was in Scotland the army were being drafted in in relation to the ambulances and that's still the position two months on.

“If you look at at the drugs related deaths the record is appalling, if you look at child poverty, which I think went into legislation in 2017, consistently missing the target.

“You can see very clearly what is going on here which is, as ever, using the constitution shield to mask an appalling record of failure by the SNP.

"If they want to be judged on their record they should be judged on their record and it's not a very good record for them to defend in my view.”

Asked what the Labour party’s solution to the constitutional issue is, Starmer said the review of the union and devolution being conducted by former prime minister Gordon Brown would offer ideas for how the UK could change.

Indicating the wide-ranging review of devolution would offer suggestions for devolving power to local authorities as well as the devolved nations, Starmer said the party cannot “defend the status quo as it is”.

Pressed on whether fiscal autonomy or devolving defence powers to Scotland is on the table as part of the review, the Labour leader said neither were being discussed as options as it stands.

The final report is expected to be published by the party next year with a focus on empowering communities rather than any suggestion of the break-up of the UK.

Nationally, polls put the Labour party around five points behind Boris Johnson and the Conservatives, despite the impact of the pandemic and Brexit.

However, Starmer rejected the suggestion this meant his leadership was not turning the corner for the party, insisting Labour is “getting a hearing again from the public that had turned against us badly”.

He added that for Labour to return to government, they must win seats again in Scotland and there was “no route back” that doesn’t include winning seats north of the border.

He said: “In other words, we know we have to win more seats and votes in Scotland and we want to, because I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and I want us to have stronger representation in Scotland.

"That means we’ve got a lot of work to do, that is why we're changing our party. That's why we have Anas as leader in Scotland who's got that focus on rebuilding in Scotland.

"It's why I spent a good chunk of our conference just a few weeks ago making important changes to the Labour Party that allows us in Scotland and elsewhere to face the electorate, rather than facing ourselves.

"We had three very important votes on the Sunday of conference that were all about demonstrating where the party needs to change, but the route back for Labour runs through Scotland and we know that and we accept that and we want that, but we’ve got a job of work to do.”

Reacting to the attack from Starmer on the Nicola Sturgeon, an SNP spokesperson contrasted his comments with Labour trailing in the polls and May’s Holyrood election.

They said: “Once again, Keir Starmer shows how little he actually knows about anything going on in Scotland. The people of Scotland had their say on our record in government – and our ambitious plans to lead Scotland through the pandemic and into a sustainable recovery - in May’s election.

"The SNP recorded its highest ever share of the constituency vote, while Labour slumped to its worst ever result.

“If Keir Starmer wants to know what poor leadership looks like, maybe he should reflect on the fact that despite being in opposition to the most shambolic, callous, crony-infested Westminster government in living memory, he is still trailing Boris Johnson’s Tories in the opinion polls.

"The Labour party continue to allow the people of Scotland to be controlled by Westminster and by a Tory party it did not vote for - and until they recognise the democratic right of the people of Scotland to choose their own future then Labour will continue to slip into the abyss."

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