Jeremy Corbyn has ruled out holding a referendum on Scottish independence in the first term of a Labour government, even if the SNP wins the majority of Scotland’s 59 General Election seats.
But the Labour leader’s aides later backtracked to say the position could change if Nicola Sturgeon’s party wins control of Holyrood in the 2021 Scottish parliament election.
Mr Corbyn kicked off a two-day tour of Scotland in Glasgow on Tuesday aiming to help his party retake some of the seats it lost to the SNP landslide in the 2015 general election.
Although Labour made a slight recovery in the 2017 ballot, the SNP still had 35 of the 59 Scottish constituencies in the last parliament.
In an interview likely to rile Ms Sturgeon, Mr Corbyn said: “No referendum in the first term for a Labour government because I think we need to concentrate completely in investment across Scotland.”
But pressed on whether it would be undemocratic to deny the referendum if the SNP again won the majority of Scottish seats in the December 12 vote, the Labour leader said: “If the SNP win the majority of seats that’s the election of those MPs.
“I’m very clear that a Labour government’s priority is investment in Scotland.”
Labour advisers later dialled back on Mr Corbyn’s statement to make it clear that the party’s position could change if the SNP wins the 2021 Holyrood election.
The SNP seized on the comments, accusing Mr Corbyn of taking the “undemocratic position of simply ignoring the Scottish people” and warning him over asking for support to form a government.
I am out on the campaign trail this morning with @JeremyCorbyn across Scotland. Labour will deliver Â£70billion of extra investment in Scotland to end homelessness, end fuel poverty and tackle the climate emergency.— Richard Leonard (@LabourRichard) November 13, 2019
When Labour wins, Scotland wins. pic.twitter.com/prhZPGGM3I
Social justice spokesman Neil Gray said: “With the once-dominant Scottish Labour Party now at the point of extinction, and Labour voters turning to the SNP, Jeremy Corbyn is in absolutely no position to tell the people of Scotland if and when they can have a say over their own future.
“As we have made crystal clear, no one looking for support from the SNP after this election should bother to even pick up the phone unless they are prepared to accept the democratically expressed will of Scotland.”
Elsewhere, Labour pledged to outspend the Tories by investing an additional £26 billion in the NHS to rebuild “crumbling” hospitals and improve patient care.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, in London, said his party was offering an annual average 4.3% real-terms increase in health spending over the next four years.
A Â£40 billion extra cash boost for our NHS including:— Jonathan Ashworth (@JonAshworth) November 13, 2019
👩ââï¸5,000 more GPs, 28,000 extra nurses, midwives & health visitors.
🏥Crumbling hospitals rebuilt & modern equipment to improve cancer care.
🌹Huge cash boost for mental health care.
👶 Invest to improve childrenâs health. pic.twitter.com/5Pv5THFjuh
While the spending pledge was widely welcomed by health groups, Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed Labour’s plan for a four-day week would cost the NHS a fortune.
In Glasgow, during his first speech of his Scottish tour, Mr Corbyn tried to dissuade voters from backing the SNP by stressing only Labour or the Tories could form a UK government.
“Nobody else can form a government,” he told supporters at the Heart of Scotstoun community centre.
He reiterated his pledge to invest more than £70 billion in Scotland as part of his “green industrial revolution” to boost jobs while tackling the climate crisis.
But as he tried to focus his campaign on spending and the NHS, Mr Corbyn was targeted by a heckling church minister as he entered the community centre.
While Mr Corbyn was showing off a tartan scarf given by volunteer organisation Who Cares? Scotland, Scotstoun Parish Church’s Richard Cameron shouted: “I thought you’d be wearing your Islamic jihad scarf.”
Mr Corbyn did not react to the criticism, which was apparently made over his willingness to talk to groups such as Hamas and the IRA as part of peace processes.
The minister was later rebuked by the Church of Scotland.