Scottish independence: Scots must define IndyRef2 mandate, says John McDonnell

The Scottish Government is drafting legislation to bring forward a second vote on independence
The Scottish Government is drafting legislation to bring forward a second vote on independence
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John McDonnell has said the people of Scotland must determine the mandate on which a second independence referendum could be called, as the senior Labour figure again refused to rule out another vote on the constitution.

But the Shadow Chancellor, speaking in Glasgow today, claimed IndyRef2 was not a priority as a future Labour Government would have “enough on its plate” dealing with the aftermath of a potential no-deal Brexit.

The Scottish Government is currently passing legislation which would pave the way for a second referendum.

A majority of MSPs - the SNP plus the Greens - have already passed a motion calling for an independence referendum to be staged to provide Scots with an alternative to Brexit.

Senior Labour figures in Scotland have previously suggested the mandate secured by both parties in the 2016 Holyrood election did not explicitly set out demands for a second referendum, after Scots had been told the 2014 vote was a “once in a generation” event.

READ MORE: No IndyRef2 election pact between Labour and SNP

Asked today what mandate would secure a second referendum, Mr McDonnell said: “I think the Scottish people will determine the mandate.

“When we go into power as a Labour Government, we are going to be faced with tackling the issues of Brexit; faced with nine years of austerity; and the existential threat of climate change.

“But if there is a mandate from the Scottish people - and the Scottish people will define that mandate - we will certainly not stand in the way of it.”

He added: “A Labour Government would have enough on its hands. Do we really want to distract from the key issues when you have children living in poverty, when you have climate change threatening the very existence of our future generations, when we are inheriting such a mess from the Tory party?”

Placing his party on a campaign footing ahead of a widely expected general election before the end of the year, Mr McDonnell said voters in the UK faced a choice between “socialism and barbarism” and that his party’s “time is coming”.

He continued: “We are presented with the opportunity of a lifetime to change the direction of political travel in the UK in a way not seen since the Eighties.

“Our time is coming and it may be coming quicker than anyone expected ... a far-Right nationalist Conservative Party that will stop at nothing to deliver a no-deal Brexit, screwing over whoever it wants in the process, continuing austerity and failing to lift a finger to tackle the climate emergency.”

Mr McDonnell also said that he wanted a “fully comprehensive education system” and private schools should be treated “like any other business”.

The shadow chancellor said his party was committed to addressing what it sees as inequality within the education system, including reforms to fee-paying schools.

His comments come as a leaked document suggests that Labour is planning to scrap discounted business rates for private schools and charge VAT on fees if it were to come to power.