John McDonnell has been condemned by Scottish Labour for “undermining” the party north of the border by opening the door to a second independence referendum.
In a joint statement, Labour MSPs said they were “clear” that the party’s position on Scotland’s future “is a decision for Scottish Labour, which the UK part must accept”.
They also said they “deplore” the shadow chancellor’s assertion that a UK Labour government would not block a second Scottish independence referendum, describing it as an “attempt to undermine the official policy position of the Scottish Labour Party”.
The shadow chancellor caused a stir on Tuesday after he used an interview at the Edinburgh Fringe festival to insist that Labour would let Scottish parliament decide whether there should be another public vote on Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the UK.
His comments contradicted Scottish Labour policy in opposing another referendum, while Edinburgh Labour MP Ian Murray called the comments “utterly irresponsible”.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard met McDonnell on Wednesday morning to make clear that a second referendum was “unwanted” and “unnecessary”.
We deplore any attempts to undermine the official policy position of the Scottish Labour party and we express serious concerns about an apparent change in Labour’s position on a matter of vital importance to the future of Scotland and of the Scottish Labour party itself
On Thursday, MSPs followed it up with a statement: “The Scottish Parliamentary Labour party has already opposed a divisive and unnecessary second independence referendum and will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom. The people of Scotland were told that the 2014 independence referendum was a once-in-a-generation contest.
“The SPLP support the stance taken by Richard Leonard as our Leader and back the policy position that he outlined.
“We deplore any attempts to undermine the official policy position of the Scottish Labour party and we express serious concerns about an apparent change in Labour’s position on a matter of vital importance to the future of Scotland and of the Scottish Labour party itself.
“Scottish party policy is very clear – that is opposition to a second independence referendum. “There is therefore an urgent need for the UK party leadership to engage constructively with the Scottish party leadership on the issue of the party’s stance on the future of Scotland.”
Amid condemnation, McDonnell on Wednesday reiterated his position that another referendum should not be blocked, but stressed that Labour viewed a second vote as “irrelevant” and called on the party to focus “on the real issues”.
He said: “My view is exactly in line with Richard Leonard, which is we concentrate on the real issues, the independence referendum is a complete diversion.
“But I’ve also said continuously, I’m not being set up by Nicola Sturgeon to blame the UK government for blocking the will of the Scottish people - that’s too trite a political manoeuvre that’s been taken on at the moment.”
McDonnell’s comments sparked speculation he was paving for a Labour-SNP pact in Westminster to keep the Tories out, but he has since ruled that out.
“We’re a socialist party, they are not,” he said.