Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has appealed to Scots to put thoughts of a possible second independence referendum to one side when deciding whether the UK should remain part of Europe.
SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly warned a vote to leave the European Union on 23 June could trigger another vote on Scotland’s future.
Polls north of the Border have shown a consistent lead for the Remain campaign, while the most recent UK poll put the Leave camp 10 points ahead, with the backing for Brexit at 55 per cent.
Former Tory prime minister Sir John Major warned earlier this week that a vote to quit the European Union could “tear apart the UK”.
Corbyn, who was campaigning in Aberdeen yesterday, conceded that the former Conservative leader “may be right”.
While the Labour leader accepted “the SNP would want to promote another referendum” in such a scenario, he stressed: “I think we should not get into that debate at the present time, the important thing is to decide how you are going to vote on 23 June.”
He stated: “I hope people will vote for what they want on 23 June, and decide whether they wish to be part of the European Union or not on the basis of solidarity with people across the continent.”
Corbyn’s visit to Aberdeen comes amid concern from parts of the party that their leader has been only lukewarm in his backing for Remain, and that support for Leave among traditional Labour voters could be decisive in the referendum.
Speaking yesterday, the Labour leader said: “I don’t think the European Union is perfect, nobody does.” But he added: “I do think the working time directives, the employment rights that have been achieved by trade unions across Europe and enshrined in European law are very important.”
A vote to stay in the UK is “not an endorsement of every bureaucratic excess of the European Union”, Corbyn said, adding that what is important is “a principle about working with people across national borders”.
With young people providing a “counter momentum” to the apparent rise in support for the Leave campaign, he said David Cameron had made a mistake in not allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote. “I supported votes at 16 and do, it’s the policy of the Labour Party to lower the voting age to 16 for all elections,” said Corbyn.
“It was achieved in the Scottish referendum and that was right and I think it should be extended. It was a mistake, it was a decision he made.”
With arguments about immigration having been central to the debate, Corbyn said the decision on the UK’s future membership of the EU must not be made “on the basis of xenophobia or attacks on all foreigners”.
He condemned claims from Leave supporters that the NHS would be better off if Britain was out of Europe, saying: “The reality is, if you go to any hospital across the UK you’re more likely to be treated by a doctor from another part of Europe than you are to be queuing up beside a patient from another part of Europe. 52,000 European nationals work in our NHS – well done them and thank you very much. If they all went I think we would have a problem.”