Never say never to indyref2, says Baillie’s opponent

Scottish Labour must “never say never” to a second independence referendum and should start preparing its position for a repeat of the 2014 vote, one of the candidates vying to be deputy leader has said.

Matt Kerr with Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard in Govan last December. Picture: Robert Perry
Matt Kerr with Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard in Govan last December. Picture: Robert Perry

Glasgow councillor Matt Kerr has branded the UK constitution a “dog’s breakfast” and says Labour must devise its proposal for a “third option” on federalism, which could sit on a future ballot paper.

Kerr will contest the vacant deputy leadership role in Scotland with MSP Jackie Baillie after Lesley Laird lost her Westminster seat in the recent UK election.

He has hit out at last year’s decision by Labour’s ruling executive north of the border not to back a special party conference on the constitutional question and urges a rethink in an article for Scotsman online today.

The left-winger supports remaining in the UK, but says the party must learn its lesson from its involvement in the cross-party Better Together campaign during the last referendum.

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“Lining up with the Tories on the Better Together campaign, at the same time as they were unleashing cruel and callous attacks on our people, their living standards and public services, has been catastrophic for the Labour Party,” Kerr states. “Make no mistake, supporting Scotland staying within the UK is a position I’d take again, but the case must be unashamedly based on our politics of democratic socialism, of solidarity, and organising our politics at the same level as the economy is organised, and we should never again stand in anyone else’s shadow.”

Labour was “manipulated” by its political opponents in 2014, but must be ready to move forward with confidence in its political beliefs.

But he adds: “We cannot achieve that however if we simply revert to wrapping ourselves in a Union Flag and repeatedly taking a ‘no and never’ position on a second referendum.

“As a party that argued for a second referendum on Brexit just three months ago, it is not only logically inconsistent, but more importantly, as democratic socialists we should not get ourselves in the position of denying, or being seen to be blocking, a democratic process and lining up with Boris Johnson to deny another vote, if that is what people truly want.”

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Kerr is the candidate closest to outgoing UK leader Jeremy Corbyn, with Baillie advocating a shift back to the centre.

Nicola Sturgeon is demanding the right to stage a second referendum on independence in response to the Brexit vote and wants it to take place this year. But this has been rejected by Boris Johnson with the UK government having control over the constitution in the UK.

Labour’s position on indyref2 has proved awkward since Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told an event at the Edinburgh Festival last year that a government led by Corbyn would not block a second referendum if it was backed by Holyrood. This undermined the Scottish party’s previous unqualified opposition to a second referendum, although Richard Leonard has since said a pro-independence majority in next year’s Holyrood elections would be a mandate for indyref2.

Kerr says Labour should now stage a special conference on the issue, in order to “consider where we sit on another referendum”.

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This would include what constitutes a mandate, whether a third option should be on the ballot paper on federalism and what form this would take. It could also look at what safeguards can be implemented to avoid some of the false claims witnessed during the Brexit campaign.

“We should allow our members to once again make their views known and we should be directed by them,” he adds.

“We should not be directed by those who say they speak on behalf of the members and argue against giving our members a say, when they know full well the findings of recent surveys of our members may not tally with their own thoughts and vision on the constitutional question.

“Our members must be at the heart of policy and political direction.”

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• Read Matt Kerr’s piece in full here

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