Scottish Labour members and elected representatives are considering following defectors out of the party because of the way Jeremy Corbyn has “run roughshod” over the party’s opposition to a second independence referendum, the Liberal Democrat MP Luciana Berger has said.
Berger, who joined the Lib Dems after walking out of Labour to form a new independent group of MPs earlier this year, said she had spoken to former colleagues in Scottish Labour who were “incredibly frustrated”, and encouraged them to “do the right thing and leave”.
The Liverpool Wavertree MP, who quit Labour after 20 years of membership and nine years in the Commons, said Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard was being “ignored” and “disrespected” by Corbyn over indyref2.
As the Labour conference in Brighton opened yesterday with an attempt by allies of Corbyn to oust deputy leader Tom Watson, Berger spoke of the “toxic” atmosphere that saw her forced to have police protection at the party’s gathering last year after she spoke out against anti-Semitism in its ranks.
Corbyn has consistently refused to endorse Scottish Labour policy that says a second independence referendum should be blocked, and this summer shadow chancellor John McDonnell raised the prospect of permission for indyref2 being granted in exchange for SNP support to put Labour in power.
After the latest damaging row between Edinburgh and London, Corbyn said last month that a second independence vote would not take place in the “formative years” of a Labour government.
“Where to start? I know there is an incredible amount of resentment both among members and some of my former colleagues that they are being treated essentially as a branch office of the Labour party in London,” Berger said in an interview with Scotland on Sunday.
“It’s highly disrespectful as a starting point, because first and foremost – they know best. It’s highly disrespectful to the leader of Scottish Labour. Why does Jeremy Corbyn think he knows better than our colleagues, people that live in Scotland?
“It characterises what Jeremy Corbyn is about: he prevaricates, he says whatever he wants to. He doesn’t necessarily think about what he’s saying.
“It also characterises the Brexit position of the Labour Party. They’re not prepared to take a side, and they’re dancing on the head of a pin, trying to be all things to all people.
“Ultimately on Scottish independence, it comes down to this: everyone should be listening to Scottish members and the Scottish leadership, who know better than most that [independence] is not something that should be on the table.”
Speaking earlier this week at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth, the MP said there was a “very stark contrast” between attending her first gathering of her new party, and the “toxic and very unpleasant atmosphere” surrounding Corbyn’s Labour Party.
“People are delighted that I’ve joined them. They want me to be part of what the Lib Dems are growing. It’s just been very warm and very positive. The cultural difference is very pronounced as well. We can have discussions and debates here, and we might not always agree with one another. But the tone is just so different.”
Berger, who made several visits to campaign for Scotland to remain in the UK during the 2014 referendum, spoke of her personal attachment to the Union, having spent Easter holidays in her teens visiting a schoolfriend in Paisley.
“I spent a lot of time at the swimming baths, and eating a lot of food that I was never allowed at home,” she said.
“I remember it being very warm and welcoming – a very similar culture to the one in Liverpool. Very open and friendly.”
She went on: “I can’t imagine how challenging that is to have someone in your national leader that’s prepared to ignore the wishes of your local members, prepared to ignore what the majority of Scottish people themselves want, and to do that at the expense of contending with the greatest issue facing our United Kingdom, which is Brexit.”
Asked whether Scottish Labour members and elected representatives might follow her, she said: “It’s a very personal decision for anyone to choose to leave the party they’ve been a member of, activist for, elected member representative for… Everyone has to make that decision at the time they see fit.
“I certainly know there is an increasing amount of disquiet. People are incredibly frustrated, whether it’s on the Brexit issue, whether they’re being run roughshod over like former colleagues in Scotland, whether it’s my experience trying to deal with issues around racism… for all those reasons, I know there are many colleagues that are considering their positions.
“When we face a general election, which could come sooner rather than later, they will have to make the same decision they expect their constituents to make. They will have to decide whether they can knock on doors and say. ‘Vote for me and put Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.’ I couldn’t do that.
“They’re having to grapple with the same decision about whether they can do that. And I know that many people, including Scottish colleagues, are contending with that conundrum.
“I hope that in the national interest, they will do the right thing and leave.”