Scottish Labour should have free vote on independence, says former leader

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Labour should consider having a free vote in any future independence referendum, according to the former leader of the Scottish party, Johann Lamont.

In an in-depth interview for Good Morning Scotland on Sunday, she said that some of the political consequences had been “profoundly depressing”, and the party still had a lot to learn from the referendum experience.

“We know that there were Labour people who supported yes and we need to understand what that was and have that debate inside the party

“It’ll be for others to decide whether you then make it a free vote. People clearly exercised their vote in the ballot box anyway.

“If that’s a debate we should have inside the party, why not? Because what is self-evident is that there were people within the Labour movement more broadly who did accept the argument that Scotland could be an independent country.”

Lamont added: “There was also a straightjacket within the yes campaign about what independence should mean. [The Scottish government document] Scotland’s Future became the manifesto, it meant they had to buy into arguments around the currency that people were unhappy with so maybe that general opening up of that debate would be interesting to see.”

The former leader, who stepped down in October 2014 following a bruising referendum for Scottish Labour, during which the party was subject to constant criticism for joining with the Tories in the pro-union Better Together campaign, insisted that “on balance it was the right thing to do”. But she added that Labour should have had a better resourced and more energetic campaign of its own.

“A debate on the constitution brings together people from all political strands. What we failed to do was make the point effectively that the yes campaign did exactly the same thing.”

Reflecting on the results of May’s general election, which saw a near wipeout of Labour in Scotland with only one MP remaining north of the border, she said: “We are now looking at a Britain where people are starting to define themselves in a different way.”

“That is profoundly depressing for me, that everyone begins to define themselves [territorially], and if we want to do that in Scotland then we shouldn’t be surprised that people begin to do it in the rest of the UK.”

Lamont, who voted for Yvette Cooper in the recent Labour leadership election, insisted Labour could still win the 2020 election. “I can see [Jeremy Corbyn] winning a general election. I was stunned by how big his victory was and I have a lot of respect for that. I wouldn’t at the beginning of the campaign have thought so but I look at the world and there’s a lot of turbulence that we didn’t see coming, a lot of people drawn to politics in a way that we hadn’t imagined in the past.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 20th September 2015 11.47 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010