Keir Starmer rules out negotiations with SNP over second independence referendum

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA WireLabour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
The UK Labour leader said the SNP was ‘focusing on the wrong priorities’

Sir Keir Starmer has ruled out entering into negotiations with the SNP over another independence referendum.

During a campaign visit to Scotland, the UK Labour leader accused the Nationalists of “focusing on the wrong priorities” and attacked their “dismal record of failure in government”.

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It comes after John Swinney, the First Minister and SNP leader, said his party would renew its push for a second referendum if it wins a majority of seats in Scotland at the general election.

The latest move is likely to further sour relations between Sir Keir and the Scottish Government, with the SNP immediately accusing him of “arrogance”.

Speaking to journalists in Whitburn, West Lothian, Sir Keir said: "The SNP yet again is focusing on the wrong priorities. The priorities are ensuring we've got a strong economy, that we've got the jobs for the future.

"That is my priority. I would have thought it was the priority of the SNP but of course it isn't, and that's because of their dismal record of failure in government. If their record was better they would be going into this election talking about their record, but they can't do that because it's so appalling."

He added: “The ambition between the SNP and Labour is stark. We say elect Labour MPs in Scotland so they can sit at the heart of an incoming Labour government, bringing about the change that I think so many people in Scotland want.

“What the SNP says is send an MP to send a message, to sit literally on the opposition benches and shout across the aisle.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who was campaigning with Sir Keir, said: “I think John Swinney has completely misjudged the mood of the Scottish people.”

The SNP manifesto, launched on Wednesday, states: “If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats, the Scottish Government will be empowered to begin immediate negotiations with the UK Government to give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent country.”

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Mr Swinney has said “the best way to secure independence is through a democratic referendum”, adding: “The obstacle to that is the intransigence of the UK Government. So, what this election gives people the chance to do, is to intensify the pressure to secure Scottish independence, and to bring that about by voting SNP in order for us to achieve a majority of Westminster seats at this election.”

SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said it was “telling” that Sir Keir has “already adopted the same old Westminster arrogance when it comes to respecting Scottish democracy”.

He added: “The right to self-determination doesn’t end because Sir Keir Starmer says so – the people of Scotland have the democratic right to choose our own future. It’s not asking a lot to expect anyone who calls themselves a democrat to respect that right too.

“Clearly Anas Sarwar’s recent statement that ‘it is for the Scottish people to decide’ amounts to empty words, and it proves how little influence he really has over his London boss, and just how little Starmer thinks of Scottish voters.

“Scotland deserves better than another Westminster government who’ll deny our right to choose our own future while at the very same time imposing austerity, Brexit and a cost-of-living crisis.”

In another blow to the relationship between the two parties, the Labour leader also ruled out lifting the block on the Scottish Government’s controversial gender reforms.

Under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed in Holyrood, but a Section 35 order was later issued by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to stop the legislation receiving royal assent.

The legislation would have removed the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria for a person to apply for a gender recognition certificate, as well as lowering the minimum age and shortening the period the applicant would have to live in their preferred gender.

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Despite calls from the SNP and the Scottish Greens for a Starmer government to lift the block, Sir Keir told journalists he would not do so.

“No, there would be no change of position on that,” he said. “I think there’s a lot to learn about gender self-ID from the way in which it’s been dealt with here Scotland, which is why we’ve got a different proposition in our manifesto.”

Sir Keir accused Rishi Sunak of a “total lack of leadership” by failing to suspend Tory candidates over betting allegations. He said: “Let’s look at what actually happened. In relation to a general election, the instincts of these Tories when a general election is called is not how do we make this work for the country? But, how do I make some money? And that tells you a broader picture about politics.

“Of course he should suspend these candidates. If they were my candidates, they’d be gone by now, out of the door. He needs to take tough action. He’s not even saying today whether there are more involved.”

He said a Labour government would change “this politics of self-entitlement” to return it to “public service”.

Elsewhere, Sir Keir said the choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson at the 2019 general election was “not a good choice”. He was asked by broadcasters about his suggestion during the BBC Question Time special on Thursday night that Mr Corbyn would have been a better prime minister than Mr Johnson.

He replied: “The choice at the last election before the electorate was not a good choice. You had Boris Johnson, who won and then three years later was thrown out of Parliament for breaking the rules, you had Jeremy Corbyn who is now expelled from the Labour Party.

“That’s why I have been so determined to change the Labour Party and to make sure that that changed Labour Party puts forward a credible manifesto for growth so that at this election, there will be a real choice between carrying on with the failure of the last 14 years or turning the page and rebuilding the country with a Labour government.”

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Asked again if he thought Mr Corbyn would have been a better premier, Sir Keir said: “I have changed the Labour Party because after that election result, we needed to ensure we were a party which proudly said: ‘Country first, party second’, with a manifesto for change, and that’s what we have put before the electorate.

“There is a real choice this time around between carrying on with what we’ve got, the failure of the last 14 years, or starting to rebuild the country with a Labour government.”



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