Labour Party Joins U.K. Opposition to Scottish Independence Vote

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Britain’s opposition Labour Party will campaign against holding a referendum on Scottish independence as polls show majority support for breaking away from the rest of the U.K.

As he laid out his party’s position ahead of May elections in Scotland, leader Keir Starmer said the “last thing” the nation of 5.5 million needs is more division as the U.K. grapples with the latest chapter of the Covid-19 pandemic and the departure from the European Union’s single market.

“It would be the entirely wrong priority to hold another Scottish independence referendum in the face of the teeth of the deepest recession for 300 years whilst still fighting this pandemic,” Starmer said on Monday.

The issue of Scottish independence is set to be a major theme in British politics next year as the country’s biggest parties try to arrest rising support for ending the three-centuries-old United Kingdom.

Opinion polls show the Scottish National Party is on course to win an outright majority in local elections. Nicola Sturgeon, who leads the SNP and the semi-autonomous government in Edinburgh, says she wants another referendum early in the next Scottish Parliament, though Prime Minister Boris Johnson has refused to sanction one.

As much of the U.K. heads into lockdown to tackle a new virus strain, Sturgeon said on Monday that her “hope and expectation” was that May’s election would go ahead on schedule.

Lost Bastion

Starmer is trying to regain ground in what was once a Labour stronghold. The party lost control of the Scottish government to the SNP in 2007 and it’s now only the third-largest party in the legislature in Edinburgh. It’s also lost all but one Scottish seat in the U.K. Parliament.

“We will do everything we can to win back your trust,” Starmer said, addressing Scots. “In Labour, but equally importantly, in the United Kingdom.”

Starmer pledged that a Labour government would set up a constitutional commission advised by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown to “consider how power, wealth and opportunity can be devolved to the most local level.”

Brown, a Scot, played a pivotal role in the last referendum campaign in 2014, when the result was 55% to 45% in favor of remaining in the U.K. Since then, though, Scotland voted against Brexit and Sturgeon has won support for her handling of the pandemic in contrast to Johnson’s tumbling popularity.

“This won’t be an exercise in shifting power from one parliament to another -- of moving a few jobs out of London, or to devolve and to forget,” Starmer said. “This will be the boldest project Labour has embarked on for a generation.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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