Former Labor Prime Minister Henry McLeish: ‘Yes, I would support independence’


HENRY McLeish has said he will vote for Scottish independence in a second referendum if the Union does not reform.

The former Labor prime minister, who has already danced around his intentions, made the statement in the Herald podcast with broadcaster Brian Taylor.

“Yes, I would support independence,” McLeish said, adding that he was “skeptical” that the Union would change enough to get him to approve it.

He said: “If it is only economic fears that bind us in the Union, it is a pretty bad situation. I believe Scotland could be independent tomorrow.

The comments are likely to prove embarrassing for current Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar, who is fiercely pro-union.

The party dismissed Mr. McLeish as “the man of yesterday desperately seeking relevance.”

SNP chairman Michael Russell, who was also on the podcast, said he didn’t think the UK could reform and hoped Mr McLeish would campaign with him for Yes in Indyref2.

Mr McLeish, who as minister for decentralization in the 1990s worked on the law behind Holyrood, also criticized his own party for its lack of new constitutional thinking.

He called federalism “unworkable politics” because of the lack of appetite in Westminster and the patchwork of powers vested in England and Wales.

In a new book, “People, Politics, Parliament: The Settled Will of the Scottish People”, Mr McLeish argues that the Union remains very centralized and in need of “radical reform”, Scotland and others nations and regions getting much more power.

But that would require a “massive change of opinion” on the part of all the Unionist parties.

He told the podcast: “I am not optimistic about the possibilities for change in the Union.

“But I think there are ways the Union can change to accommodate a strong, ambitious and modern Scotland moving forward.

“I would like to see this as a possibility…. so that when there is a referendum it may not necessarily be an Indyref2, what that could mean is that there are other questions and options.

He said Scotland was still “bitterly divided” on the constitutional question, seven years after the 2014 independence referendum, and that there was “no established will”.

He also warned that Boris Johnson’s “brutal unionism” risked “dismantling” decentralization.

He said: “We are not only facing the fight for a way forward for Scotland, we are actually looking to defend what has been achieved so far.

“As far as I am concerned, it is not Scotland that is out of step or Northern Ireland or Wales or parts of England, it is the inability of the Union to see the modernity of the advance of Scotland and to think that there is another way forward, where the Union can risk and adapt to what I consider to be a multinational framework instead of looking at a United Kingdom which will not give up and remains very centralized.

Mr. McLeish has flirted with independence for many years.

He said after the 2016 Brexit vote that he would “think very seriously” about voting yes, and also supported a second referendum.

However, his preference remains to keep the Union.

But he made it clear to Mr. Taylor that his patience was running out.

When asked how he would vote in a Yes / No referendum on independence given the current state of the Union, Mr McLeish said: ‘Let me answer the question by saying that I don’t think there will be an Indyref2 vote in the next five years.

“What I am saying, and this is the prick in the tail of my message, is that if the Union does not look like, from the Conservative Labor Party, what I am talking about, then yes I would support the independence.

Asked to confirm that he would vote for independence, Mr. McLeish replied: “Yes. If I am convinced that the Union … will not change, then I could support independence because I believe that every nation in the UK has the right to self-determination and to move forward. All I’m saying is that there is a chance to do something different, and let’s have a debate on an alternative to independence before there is a vote on independence.

He added: “If it is only economic fears that bind us within the Union, it is a pretty bad situation. I believe Scotland could be independent tomorrow.

“But the Scots have to pass judgment next time.

“In addition to the fears they had before, they have to be brave if they are to move forward, but they also have to accept that the Brexit madness has made life more complex and much more difficult as we go along. . as a nation.

Mr Russell said he saw no sign that the Union was about to change direction, “no screeching tires in the democratic system”, or that the UK government was treating Scotland as an equal.

He said, “It’s not going to happen, Henry, and so I think we have to make up our minds… and the way to do that is to allow people to choose.

“It won’t be tomorrow, and so there is a period between now and the time of the vote, during which the UK government could possibly change.

“Unless… in my opinion, the record is not good.

“Let’s not keep putting this off. I think it is better that we make a decision now.

When asked if the Labor Party is addressing the issues it has raised, Mr McLeish replied: ‘No, that makes me even more perplexed about that.’

Summing up, he said: “Point one, I don’t think there will be an early referendum, in part because Westminster or Boris Johnson won’t allow it.

“Second, I think there will be a referendum … maybe after five years.

“I think in this referendum, if there is the slightest suspicion that Westminster is not for turning in any way, then the Scots will have a different choice [from 2014].

“Because it will mean voting for an independent Scotland knowing that Westminster does not care enough, or is active enough, to provide the kind of environment in which a modern and ambitious Scotland can forge ahead. ”

Tory MP Donald Cameron, who was also on the podcast, denied the Scottish government had a mandate for Indyref2 and said the country neither wanted nor needed another split vote.

Mr McLeish became Scotland’s second prime minister in 2000 after the death of Donald Dewar, head of the Scottish executive coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

He resigned just over a year later after controversy over his office expenses.

SNP Deputy Leader Keith Brown said: “More and more people in Scotland are supporting an independent Scotland.

“Independence is normal, and Scotland need only look to the successes of other small independent European nations like Ireland to see the immense possibilities that lie ahead.
“The alternative is to let Scotland suffer under Westminster control – harnessed to a Conservative government that has passed a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for, plans a brazen seizure of Holyrood’s powers and threatens to severely cut the boost to universal credit that ordinary people rely on.

“A former Labor Prime Minister announces that he is now open to independence, but Anas Sarwar does not even recognize the iron mandate given by the Scottish people to hold a referendum.

“It is very telling that Henry McLeish – one of the architects of decentralization – now recognizes that Scotland is failing and that the only way to protect Scotland from toxic Conservative policies is to become an independent country. ”

A Scottish Labor source said: “A predictable statement, from the man of yesterday desperately seeking relevance.”

Labor peer Lord George Foulkes added: “I have heard of rats leaving a sinking ship, but I have never heard of rats joining a sinking ship.”


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