Nicola Sturgeon has been branded the most divisive politician “since Margaret Thatcher” over her push for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Labour leader Richard Leonard made the outspoken attack today as he said he would not back a second vote on independence which the First Minister wants to stage.
Ms Sturgeon has said she will decide later this year when to move on a second referendum as the outcome of the Brexit negotiations become clear. The pro-independence majority of SNP and Green MSPs at Holyrood voted in favour of a second referendum last year.
But the new Labour leader told BBC Sunday Politics Scotland: “That sparked a real polarisation of opinion in Scotland.
“I’ve never witnessed, since the days of Margaret Thatcher, a political leader that was so divisive because of that call she has made for a second referendum.
“That’s why I think the SNP have been forced to row back from it.” The SNP revived its referendum plans following the Brexit.
The UK Government has indicated that it would block a second referendum before the next Holyrood election in 2021. Responsibility for the constitution lies at Westminster.
But Mr Leonard said today: “I’m there to represent the interests of the Scottish Labour party and we’ve been absolutely clear that we do not see the case, within just a matter of years, for a second independence referendum.
“The people were asked their views in 2017 and they gave a very clear answer. So I’m absolutely firm on the question of whether there should be a second independence referendum or not – there should not be. There’s no case for it.”
Both Ms Sturgeon and Alex Salmond had claimed that the 2014 referendum would be a “once in a generation” during the last campaign, the Labour leader added.
“I think we need to move on from the Scottish independence question.”
Ms Sturgeon did pledge to “reset” her referendum strategy after the SNP lost 21 seats in last year’s UK election which saw the Tories campaign heavily against the SNP’s referendum plans.
A Spokesperson for the SNP said: “This was the latest interview to show that Scottish Labour have somehow managed to elect a leader who has no policy on Europe, no policy on taxation and does not even seem to know which powers are reserved and which are devolved.
“The idea that Richard Leonard needs to see how Brexit pans out before deciding on his position is utterly absurd – if an asteroid were hurtling toward the earth right now, no doubt Mr Leonard would say we need to wait and see what destruction it causes before deciding what to do about it.
“Mr Leonard is of course right to say that there is a “compelling case” for being in the EU Customs Union – the only question is why he is not making that case to Jeremy Corbyn, before it is too late.
“While the referendum on independence produced an outpouring of democratic debate about how we could empower ourselves to make Scotland fairer and more prosperous, the 1980s demonstrated what can happen when those powers are left in the hands of a Westminster Tory government which Scotland did not vote for. It is for Labour to explain why they choose the latter option.”