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Keir Starmer slams Nicola Sturgeon’s independence referendum push

Sir Keir Starmer today promised Scotland the ‘boldest devolution project for a generation’ as he tried to head off growing demands for independence. 

The Labour leader announced he is drafting in former prime minister Gordon Brown to help the party reverse its fortunes in Scotland.

He believes boosting devolution and handing more powers to Holyrood can take the wind out of Nicola Sturgeon’s sails as she continues with her push to split from the UK. 

The Labour leader slammed the SNP chief’s ‘misguided’ bid to hold a re-run of the 2014 border poll as he said a second vote should be blocked until there has been a ‘proper assessment’ of splitting up the UK.  

He said Labour will ‘argue passionately against another independence referendum’ as he insisted holding one would be ‘entirely the wrong priority’ as the UK braces for its ‘deepest recession for 300 years’. 

Sir Keir said there should not be a second independence vote until the ‘costs, consequences and uncertainties of separation’ have been fully examined and that should include looking at the future of Scotland’s currency. 

Meanwhile, he also attacked Boris Johnson as he claimed the Prime Minister has ‘no plan to counter Scottish separatism other than to defend the status quo’. 

He claimed that ‘in Brexit and austerity’ the PM and the Tories had ‘given separatists two big boxing gloves to pummel the United Kingdom’.  

Sir Keir Starmer today pledged the ‘boldest devolution project for a generation’ as he tries to win back voters in Scotland

Sir Keir blasted Nicola Sturgeon's 'misguided' attempts to hold another Scottish independence referendum

Sir Keir blasted Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘misguided’ attempts to hold another Scottish independence referendum 

The Labour leader used a speech this morning to set out his vision for keeping the UK intact as he tries to head off growing demands for a second independence referendum. 

Sir Keir told Scottish voters that the party will ‘do everything we can to win back your trust in Labour, but equally importantly, in the United Kingdom’. 

Scotland used to be an electoral fortress for the Labour Party but in recent general elections it has been hammered by the SNP. 

Labour believes winning back seats north of the border will be key to Sir Keir’s hopes of securing the keys to 10 Downing Street at the next election.

Numerous opinion polls in recent months have shown there is now a majority of support for independence in Scotland. 

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to hold a re-run of the 2014 border poll after the Holyrood elections next year but Mr Johnson is refusing to grant permission for the vote.  

Sir Keir said this morning ‘the last thing Scotland needs now is more years of division’ as he insisted ‘Labour will argue passionately against another independence referendum’.

He said: ‘We will argue that today, we will argue that tomorrow. It would be entirely the wrong priority to hold another Scottish independence referendum in the teeth of the deepest recession for 300 years.

‘While still fighting this pandemic. When there is such uncertainty about how Brexit, and coronavirus will affect us.

‘And when the costs and consequences of independence are still so uncertain.

‘That’s why Nicola Sturgeon’s call for an independence referendum in the “early part” of the next Scottish Parliament – perhaps even next year – is so misguided.

‘Given the damage and division this would cause, no responsible First Minister should contemplate it – and no responsible Prime Minister would grant it.’ 

Sir Keir said a second independence vote should not be held ‘while our economic and health outlook is so precarious’ or until ‘there has been a proper assessment of the costs, consequences and uncertainties of separation’. 

He said that assessment should include looking at Scotland’s currency, the armed forces and the impact on jobs and pensions.

Sir Keir is drafting in ex-PM Gordon Brown to help reverse the Labour Party's fortunes in Scotland

Sir Keir is drafting in ex-PM Gordon Brown to help reverse the Labour Party’s fortunes in Scotland

The Labour leader also took aim at Mr Johnson as he claimed the Tories ‘have no plan to counter Scottish separatism other than to defend the status quo’. 

‘And – to borrow the Prime Minister’s terminology – in Brexit and in austerity they’ve given separatists two big boxing gloves to pummel the United Kingdom,’ he added. 

Sir Keir is hoping the promise of a new wave of devolution will win back Scottish voters and head off independence calls. 

He announced the formation of a constitutional commission – advised by former prime minister Mr Brown – to consider how best power, wealth and opportunity can be devolved to the most local level throughout the UK.

Setting out a ‘fresh and tangible offer’ to the Scottish people in the face of rising support for breaking away from the UK, he said: ‘It is Labour’s duty to offer a positive alternative to the Scottish people. 

‘To show that you don’t have to choose between a broken status quo and the uncertainty and divisiveness of separatism.

‘Boris Johnson isn’t Britain just as Nicola Sturgeon isn’t Scotland. The United Kingdom is much more than that, more than any individual. 

‘It has been before – and can be again – a great force for social justice, for security and for solidarity.

‘And under my leadership, we will do everything we can to win back your trust in Labour, but equally importantly, in the United Kingdom.’

He stressed that the devolution project will apply wider than just to Scotland to address ‘a yearning across the United Kingdom for politics and power to be much closer to people’.

‘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’,’ he said.

‘This will be the boldest project Labour has embarked on for a generation and every bit as bold and radical as the programme of devolution that Labour delivered in the 1990s and 2000s.’

He accused the Government of using the pandemic to pit different parts of the country against each other when ministers should be striving to bring them together.

‘The case for the next phase of devolution was urgent before Covid, but the pandemic has put rocket boosters under it,’ he said.

‘Our Labour council leaders, mayors and metro mayors have stood up for their communities against a centralised Westminster-knows-best response.

‘But too often the UK Government’s approach has been to pit council against council, town against town, city against city, mayor against mayor.

‘It’s no surprise that the many local leaders I’ve spoken to have felt distanced and ignored on decisions that have had huge consequences on people’s jobs, lives and their communities.’   

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