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Union chief ‘would have backed Scottish independence in 2014 referendum’

But Len McCluskey said the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader meant he had changed his mind.

Len McCluskey said he would have voted Yes if he had had a vote in the 2014 independence referendum. (Owen Humphreys/PA)
Len McCluskey said he would have voted Yes if he had had a vote in the 2014 independence referendum. (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Len McCluskey, the leader of the UK’s largest trade union, has revealed he would have voted for independence if he had lived in Scotland at the time of the 2014 referendum.

But Mr McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, said the election of Jeremy Corbyn as UK Labour leader meant he had changed his stance.

The trade union chief – who has been dubbed “Red Len” – tipped Mr Corbyn to win the next general election, predicting that while Labour would not secure an overall majority, Mr Corbyn would lead a minority government.

That was despite him stating that new Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a “very, very good campaigner”.

If I had been at Scotland at the time I would have thought ‘You know what, I want to just cut away from London and Westminster’. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey

Mr McCluskey spoke out as he took part in an event with broadcaster Iain Dale at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The Unite general secretary said: “Had I been Scottish and had I lived in Scotland, and had I had a vote at the time, I would have voted for independence.”

He made the comments despite Unite having taken a “neutral position” in the 2014 campaign, because its membership was “split down the middle” on the issue.

But Mr McCluskey argued Scottish people had been “subjected to rule by Westminster” by “neo-liberal” governments under first Tony Blair and then the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition – claiming both these administrations had “ignored many of the problems of Scottish working people”.

He said: “It is why Labour lost so many of their votes to the SNP, the SNP were seen as a more radical social democratic party.

“If I had been in Scotland at the time I would have thought ‘You know what, I want to just cut away from London and Westminster’.

“I wouldn’t have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Now we have Jeremy Corbyn and a Labour government that can give a truly transformative policy to all of our nations, Wales, Scotland, and England.

“Therefore if there was an independence referendum tomorrow I would vote No.”

He criticised Labour, which was led by Ed Miliband at the time of the 2014 independence vote, for taking part in the Better Together campaign group with the Conservatives.

He also argued that in the wake of the 2014 vote the party suffered from having Jim Murphy, who was a minister in Mr Blair’s government, voted in as Scottish leader just three months later.

Mr McCluskey – who forgot Mr Murphy’s name – said enthusiasm for independence generated in the 2014 referendum had helped create a “tsunami” for the SNP, who won all but three seats in Scotland in the 2015 Westminster general election.

Speaking about Labour’s response to this, he said: “Who did we put in charge, who stepped forward to control Scottish Labour and win back the Scottish working class – what was his name I’ve forgotten.”

An audience member shouted out it was Mr Murphy, with Mr McCluskey saying: “Fancy me forgetting Jim.

“Jim Murphy, who was at the epicentre of New Labour, was put in charge of Scottish Labour to win back the Scottish working class, it was doomed to failure.”

Current Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard is “more radical”, Mr McCluskey added – although he said the party’s message was “obviously not being projected strongly enough”.

However the union chief was confident that Labour under Mr Corbyn would win the next UK general election.

The increase in support for the Tories under new leader Mr Johnson would be a “double-edged sword”, he said, arguing that Labour activists would be “inspired by him to get out and campaign against him”.

While he branded Mr Johnson a “deeply dangerous individual”, he also said he was “going to be a formidable campaigner”.

Mr McCluskey added: “Anybody who thinks Boris Johnson is a clown and we don’t have to take him seriously is making a huge mistake, he’s a very, very good campaigner and when the general election comes he will be dramatically different from Theresa May.”

But he stated: “It’s my personal opinion that whenever the election comes, and it will come within the next nine months, Labour will win. I don’t think we will get an overall majority but I think we will be the largest party and we will govern on a minority.”

PA

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