Kezia Dugdale has warned that Scotland is not immune to the social divisions highlighted by the Brexit vote and insisted that it would be “categorically wrong” for the UK government to block a second independence referendum if it were called for by the Scottish people.
In the Scottish Labour leader’s first major speech since the referendum result emerged two weeks ago, she told an audience of activists in Edinburgh: “Over a million people voted leave, but the public debate we’ve been having since the UK voted leave would make you think that we voted unanimously for remain.”
Challenged by an audience member about what he saw as her failure to support Jeremy Corbyn last week during the onslaught of shadow cabinet resignations, Dugdale responded: “I didn’t go out of my way to actively speak out against him. But what I said was that, while Jeremy Corbyn and I do similar jobs, we were elected at a similar time, we got similar mandates, if I had to go into the Scottish parliament and had lost the support of 80% of my colleagues, I would find my job very difficult, if not impossible.”
Pressed later on the question of Corbyn’s competence, she said: “It’s about much more than that. He’s lost the faith of 80% of his colleagues, he can’t do his job, he’s therefore not competent to do his job.”
Describing the outcome of the referendum and its aftermath as a “reckoning for the political establishment”, Dugdale told the audience: “We in the Labour party, and across the Labour movement, need to recognise that it wasn’t just disenchantment with the Tory party that brought this leave result home.”
“It was disdain for an entire political class who look out of touch, elitist, deaf to the concerns that people are raising and with no answers to the big challenges our country is facing.”
Labour “too rarely made a full-throated defence of immigration ... We were too quick to follow public opinion instead of leading it”, she said.
Appealing to Scots who voted to leave the EU to email her directly with their reasons, Dugdale pointed out that high leave votes were recorded in some of Scotland’s poorest communities and that many of those areas also voted strongly for independence in the 2014 referendum.
“We need to understand why they felt the gamble of independence or the gamble of leaving the EU was a better prospect than fighting for change within the system we have,” she said.
Dugdale said that Ruth Davidson had been right to insist that the UK government should not block a potential second Scottish independence referendum. It would be “categorically wrong to do that if there was a compelling sense that the Scottish people wanted a second referendum”, she said.
While there has been much speculation that Scottish Labour may alter its policy on a second referendum following the Brexit vote, Dugdale maintained that the democratic mandates of the referendums on Scottish independence and the EU must be respected, while arguing that “we should keep all options on the table”.
She said there was currently an impasse where the Conservatives wanted Scotland in the UK, but out of the EU, while the SNP wanted the country out of the UK, but in the EU.
“It really is only the Labour party that wants what the vast majority of people across Scotland want: in the EU and in the UK,” Dugdale said.
Asked whether this was a realistic option, Dugdale referred to proposals being investigated by senior Labour figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland to have separate federated membership of the EU.
The former Labour lord chancellor and justice secretary Charlie Falconer is consulting constitutional lawyers on whether a federal relationship would be a legally sound alternative to a full divorce between the EU and all parts of the UK.
This article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th July 2016 14.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010