That sound you just heard was the entire Scottish Labour Party — all 12 of them — slapping their foreheads in frustrated unison. In an interview with Iain Dale at the Edinburgh Fringe, John McDonnell confirmed that Labour would not stand in the way of the SNP holding a second referendum on Scottish independence. The Shadow Chancellor told the LBC host:
‘We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. They will take a view about whether they want another referendum. Nicola Sturgeon said by late next year or the beginning of 2021. We would not block something like that. We would let the Scottish people decide. That’s democracy. There are other views within the party but that’s our view.’
This is the polar opposite of the message Scottish Labour has been trying to get across to the voters. The party’s perceived ambivalence on the Union was credited with helping Ruth Davidson replace the Caledonian comrades as the official opposition at Holyrood in 2016. Earlier this year, when Labour’s Scottish leader Richard Leonard was asked about a second referendum, he said ‘there is no case for one’ and, pushed further, insisted there was no mandate for the SNP to hold one. Around the same time, Leonard lamented that Scottish Labour had been seen as ‘bogged down too much on constitutional issues’ and said the party was ‘determined not to repeat that mistake’.
McDonnell’s intervention has dragged them back into the bog. Their professed opposition to Indyref2 won’t count for much since the voters know these decisions are taken in the leader’s office. McDonnell added: ‘The Scottish Parliament will come to a considered view on that and they will submit that to the government and the English Parliament itself.