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Labour leadership hopeful Smith pours cold water on second independence ballot


Owen Smith said Scotland's leaders should be focusing on health, education and other policy areas that are devolved

Owen Smith said Scotland's leaders should be focusing on health, education and other policy areas that are devolved

Owen Smith said Scotland's leaders should be focusing on health, education and other policy areas that are devolved

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has said Scotland should not have a second independence referendum - just two days after he stated he would not oppose such a ballot.

The Welsh MP spoke on the day that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched a national survey seeking the views of two million Scots on independence, Europe and Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon cited the "chaos and collapse" in Labour, together with the uncertainty caused by the UK vote to leave the European Union, as two "seismic events" which prompted a fresh look at the constitutional question.

But Mr Smith said the SNP leader should be focusing on health, education and other policy areas that are devolved to Scotland.

He stated: " We've got a set of problems in Scotland, the underfunding of the NHS, a crisis in GP provision, the educational attainment gap growing, she (Ms Sturgeon) should be in my view getting on with those bread and butter issues rather than worrying about another independence referendum. I just don't think there's any need or desire for it."

He made the comment just two days after he said he would not oppose another independence referendum "i f the Scottish people chose that's what they wanted and there was agreement in the Labour Party".

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has made clear her party will oppose another vote on leaving the UK in the current five year Holyrood term.

When asked if the policy position should be set by Ms Dugdale or the UK Labour Party, Mr Smith insisted: " Definitely Kez. Same as it's been for a while, so my view is totally unchanged on this."

He told the Press Association: " It is Kezia Dugdale's job as leader of the Scottish Labour Party to determine Scottish Labour's position in respect of a second referendum. She has done that and she agrees with me that there shouldn't be one, I support her in that position that we definitely should not have a second referendum in Scotland.

"It is for Kezia to determine that because that is to be respectful of the autonomy of the Scottish Labour Party and the fact that there is devolution."

As well as arguing there should not be a second independence referendum, Mr Smith said there should also be no repeat of the Better Together campaign of 2014, which saw Labour join forces with the Conservatives to make the case for Scotland staying part of the UK.

"Better Together diminished our power and we would want a separate powerful Labour campaign," the challenger to Jeremy Corbyn said.

"However I don't think there should be a second referendum."

He continued: " I am someone who is fundamentally, deeply a unionist because I believe in socialism for everybody across Britain and I want every family, no matter where they are in Britain, to have maximum chance to achieve their potential. I bellieve fundamentally in redistribution of resource in our country in order to equalise outcomes to a much greater extent, I believe in pooling risks and rewards, and that's what devolution allows and independence doesn't allow that.

"So I think it would be immeasurably impoverishing for Scotland and the UK, impoverishing for all of us, if Scotland were to be independent, so I am totally opposed to Scotland being independent."

Mr Smith spoke out ahead of a leadership campaign rally in Edinburgh, the city where Labour's sole Scottish MP Ian Murray has his constituency.

The challenger praised Ms Dugdale, who has backed him for the leadership job, saying she is doing a "f antastic job in difficult circumstances".

But he claimed Mr Corbyn is "hanging around her neck like a millstone" as she tries to rebuild Scottish Labour, which slumped to third place behind the Tories in May's Holyrood elections.

Mr Smith hit out at the UK party leader for having "just stood there and smirked" when boos were heard when Ms Dugdale was mentioned at the Labour leadership hustings in Glasgow.

"My view is absolutely clear, I think Kezia is a fantastic, young, strong, woman leader of the Labour Party in Scotland and she is doing a fantastic job in difficult circumstances, having inherited a set of circumstances where Scottish Labour is at a very low ebb, and she's got Jeremy Corbyn hanging around her neck like a millstone," he said.

"It's a disaster for her to have Jeremy in charge of the Labour Party in the UK, and she's had to battle against that."

He insisted he is best placed to lead the party because he " can go beyond the slogans that Jeremy has offered to start sketching out what the solutions are that the country needs".

Labour needs to do more than offer soundbites to oppose austerity, Mr Smith said, adding his plans for a "British new deal" investment programme would provide a £200 billion boost for the UK, including £20 billion for Scotland.

He said: " Jeremy's right that we need to be anti-austerity but he's not gone beyond that. I want us to be laying out what a new industrial strategy would look like for Britain. At the heart of that I've talked about the need for a massive Keynsian investment programme, a British new deal. That would mean £200 billion of new investment in schools, in skills, in hospitals and housing across the whole of the UK, £20 billion of that for Scotland."

And while Labour is fighting the Conservatives in England and the SNP in Scotland, he insisted that the two governing parties are not "radically different".

Mr Smith said: " I don't think it's radically different, the SNP are not a progressive left alternative to Labour, I think their attitude on taxation, the refusal to introduce the 50p rate of tax, the refusal to increase corporation tax in Scotland shows that they're not really progressive.

"The fact that they've not made the sorts of investments in health or education that would better serve poorer people in Scotland. The educational attainment gap is growing in Scotland, there's a reduction in the number of working class kids going to university in Scotland versus the rest of the UK. That feels like the actions of a right wing government.

"I don't think there is that much of a difference in many regards to the reality of the SNP and the Tories, even if there is in terms of the rhetoric."

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