Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale says her party will not get involved in another Better Together campaign with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats if there is a second independence referendum.
As the Scottish Labour conference opened in Perth, Ms Dugdale ruled out working in direct partnership with the Tories, and said that making Conservative leader Ruth Davidson the figurehead of Union support would be a “huge mistake”.
There is undoubtedly a point in a referendum campaign where for legal reasons and financial reasons there can only be two sidesKezia Dugdale
On a day that saw delegates back her plan for a federal UK with more powers coming to Scotland, Ms Dugdale was asked repeatedly about a second independence referendum and her views on reforming Labour’s Better Together partnership with the Conservatives. “I cannot imagine that happening,” she said.
“There is undoubtedly a point in a referendum campaign where for legal reasons and financial reasons there can only be two sides and you would find different politicians from different parties in each of those two sides. That’s very different from having a joined-up campaign.
“If we are forced to go through that pain [of a referendum] again, and we definitely don’t want to do that as a country, if I were to find myself in that position I would be wanting to argue from the very start about a distinctive Labour campaign, very distinct Labour platform on why I believe we are stronger as part of the United Kingdom.”
Ms Dugdale will today harden Labour’s stance against Scottish independence by saying the party will “never” support the break-up of the UK while she is in charge.
She will deliver the pledge in her keynote speech – which threatens to be overshadowed by Labour’s dismal showing in the Copeland by-election on Thursday.
Amid growing signs that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon intends to call another vote on Scottish independence, Ms Dugdale will promise to “work tirelessly” to save the United Kingdom. She will underline her commitment to the UK, even though the 2014 vote saw many Labour supporters change their allegiance to the SNP.
She will say: “The Labour Party I lead will never support independence … some people - inside and outside the Labour Party – still say that we should back independence. Not because it’s right, but because they think it’s popular. Let me say this to them: the Labour Party I lead will never betray its values so easily. It will never turn its back on the idea that together we’re stronger. That we achieve far more working in partnership than we can along – that our historic values can endure even under this greatest threat.”
The Scottish Labour leader will also say that she will never support another vote.
“Our country still bears the scars of the last one and no-one wants to go through that any time soon. That’s why Labour will never support one in the Scottish Parliament.”
Her speech will include an acknowledgement that with an independence-supporting majority of SNP and Green MSPs at Holyrood, there could be another poll.
“If this country faces another referendum at any point in the future, I will work tirelessly to make sure that our side of the argument is successful again,” she will say.
At a fringe meeting yesterday, Ms Dugdale faced a barrage of questions about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership following Labour’s defeat at the hands of the Tories in Copeland.
The UK Labour leader is under pressure following the loss of the long-standing Labour seat in its north of England heartlands. The loss of the seat Labour had held for 80 years marked the first time a UK governing party had made a by-election gain since 1982.
Ms Dugdale admitted she was “worried” by the result but refrained from laying the blame on Mr Corbyn.
“I recognise this is a collective failing on behalf of the party to win the support and the trust of people in the north of England,” Ms Dugdale said.
“Am I worried about that? Of course I am, because I want a Labour prime minister and a UK Labour government. It is what I came into politics to strive for. I joined the Labour Party in 2003 exactly because there was a Labour government which was transforming the life chances of people throughout this country.”
She added: “There’s undoubtedly a reality which is a party that’s been fighting itself for a year and has been seen doing just that in the eyes of the public. [The party] has to do a lot more to make it look like the united force and it needs to be to look like an alternative government.”