Both candidates for the Scottish Labour leadership have called on the UK party to vote down Theresa May’s Brexit deal at Westminster to bring about an early general election.
At a leadership hustings at the Labour conference in Brighton, Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar rejected calls from ex-leader Kezia Dugdale for a referendum on the terms of the UK’s deal.
However, the comments will add to pressure on the UK Labour front bench to harden its opposition to Brexit. London Mayor Sadiq Khan has today also called for Labour to back a referendum once the terms of the UK’s Brexit deal are known.
The candidates also traded blows over their position in the UK Labour party, with Mr Sarwar suggesting that union support for his rival risked returning the Scottish party to “branch office” status, while Mr Leonard sought to highlight inconsistencies in his opponent's support for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
Asked about Ms Dugdale’s intervention in a column for the Daily Record, both candidates expressed a hope that Labour could collapse the government ahead of the conclusion of Brexit in March 2019.
“I’m not persuaded that we need a second referendum,” Mr Leonard, saying Ms Dugdale’s call was “premature”.
He added: “The process that we’re involved in will lead to the deal going back to Westminster, and I think there's a possibility of Westminster voting that deal down, which would in turn precipitate a general election, and I think as a Labour party that is something we should relish.
“So I’m not contemplating second referendums, I want to see an early general election, and I want to see Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.”
Mr Leonard later went further when asked again if there should be another referendum to stop Brexit: “I hope there will be a parliamentary process that does stop it,” he said.
Mr Sarwar said there was “election fatigue” in Scotland and that politicians had to “respect the mandates that are given by the public”.
He added: “We should not accept Tory Brexit and I would love there to be an election before the deal is concluded while we are still in that transition period, so that we can take over the negotiations and make sure we get the Brexit deal that works for working people and works for the UK and Scotland.”
Reports that union Unite are set to mobilise thousands of their members to back Mr Leonard prompted claims of a “stitch up”, with Mr Sarwar warning that Scottish Labour could not afford to look like a “branch office” controlled from London.
During the hustings, Mr Leonard hit back saying support from Unite “wasn’t a decision taken by [general secretary] Len McCluskey, it was a decision taken by the rank and file leadership of Unite in Scotland.”
He highlighted his consistent support for left-wing politics, in comments seen as highlighting Mr Sarwar’s previous one-time opposition to Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
“I’ve held the same views throughout my 35 years as a member of the Labour party and in that sense, I’m similar to Jeremy Corbyn in that I’ve been consistent, and there have been times when I’ve been accused of being off message and out of fashion.”
Mr Sarwar hit back at criticism over his decision to send his children to private school, claiming questions about his family usually depended on which “faction” of the Labour party the questioner belonged to.