General election 'not a proxy vote' on Scottish independence, says Richard Leonard
Richard Leonard has attempted to reframe the general election in Scotland as a contest between Labour and the Conservatives and who will ultimately form the next UK Government, insisting the poll should not be a "proxy vote" on the constitution.
Launching his party's Scottish election campaign at Maryhill Burgh Halls in Glasgow on Wednesday, Mr Leonard told an audience of candidates and activists the December 12 election would ask the fundamental question of "whether we want to put borders and national boundaries up".
Linking the Nationalists' desire for independence with the Conservatives' quest to take the UK out of the EU, the Scottish Labour leader said: "Unlike the Tories and the SNP we want Scotland to stay in the UK and we want the UK to stay in the EU."
He promised that a Labour government at Westminster would reverse rising inequality, strengthen workers' rights, introduce a "real living wage" of £10 an hour as the minimum rate of pay for every worker over the age of sixteen, and guarantee a free TV license for those aged 75 and over.
Mr Leonard continued: "Because the real division in society is not the division between Scotland and England - as Nicola Sturgeon would have you believe. I’ve never understood why the leader of the SNP wants to defend unity across Europe and oppose it in the UK.
"And it is not the division between the people of these shared islands and Europe as Boris Johnson would have you believe.
"The real division is between those people who own the wealth and those people who through their hard work and endeavour create the wealth. That is the real division.
"It is my strongly held view that Johnson represents a dangerous strain of nationalism and that is what poses the biggest threat to the future of the UK.
"In stark contrast the election of a radical and redistributive Labour Government is the most positive argument for the UK, and would eclipse the SNP’s case for the establishment of a separate Scottish state."
The Scottish Labour leader added: "So we oppose independence and we believe another independence referendum is undesirable and unnecessary.
"The SNP’s current argument for another referendum is predicated on Brexit at the very time when an incoming Labour Government is pledged to giving the choice back to the people, re-energising the chances of the UK remaining in the EU which under my leadership the Scottish Labour party will help to lead."
Scottish Labour is defending seven constituencies north of the Border and chose to launch its 2019 election campaign in Maryhill, in the heart of Glasgow North - one of its top target seats. In 2017, the party finished second to the SNP but slashed the Nationalists' majority by nearly 9,000 votes.
Asked if he supported the UK Labour position of agreeing to an IndyRef2 if the SNP won an overall majority at the next Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2021, Mr Leonard said he would be leading Labour into such a vote and planned to win them - preventing any mandate.
Responding to Mr Leonard’s speech, Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden said: “Richard Leonard’s assertion that Labour will come anywhere close to winning in 2021 is delusional.
“It was simply an attempt to distract from the big issue of this campaign - Labour’s weakness on IndyRef2.
“The truth is, when Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon attempt to strike a pro-independence alliance, Richard Leonard will be powerless to stop it.”
Patrick Grady, the SNP’s candidate in Glasgow North, said: “Labour’s position on Brexit is as clear as mud.
“Only a vote for the SNP is a vote to escape Brexit and to put Scotland’s future in our own hands – not Boris Johnson’s – by protecting our right to choose our own future as an independent country in Europe.”