Contender 'out of touch' say SNP
Smith in ‘car crash’ interview over devolution
Labour leadership contender Owen Smith today drew criticism over his understanding of the devolution settlement and for his seeming dismissal of Scottish Labour policy on tax, independence and defence.
Mr Smith, who is challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership, told an interviewer that he would vote to renew Trident nuclear weapons despite Scottish Labour wanting them removed from the Clyde.
He said defence was not a devolved issue but went on to state – wrongly – that income tax rates also were not devolved. They are devolved in the Scotland Act.
On independence he said he wanted Scotland to remain part of the UK but said it was for the Scottish people to decide. Scottish Labour opposes a second referendum.
Asked if his support for renewing the Trident missile programme would ‘trump’ Scottish Labour policy which opposes it, he replied: “On something as important as this, which isn’t devolved, then, yes, it does.”
“They could make an argument that it ought to be, but I don’t think they are seriously suggesting that.
“So on a non-devolved issue like this, such as the level of income tax rates, for example, the base [interest] rate…that’s not devolved either…that’s a decision taken in Westminster.”
Mr Smith said that the “nature of devolution” was that Scottish Labour’s positions would be trumped by Westminster.
His comments came just days after former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the Scotland Act was now out of date and that Scotland should receive full Home Rule.
The SNP described it as “a car-crash interview”, particularly his comments about income tax rates being “non-devolved”.
The SNP noted that Mr Smith also said that it was for the Scottish people to determine whether there should be a second independence referendum – in direct contradiction of Scottish Labour’s manifesto commitment to oppose a new referendum.
SNP MSP Gordon Macdonald said: “This car crash interview shows just how out of touch Labour is with Scotland – with a potential party leader seemingly unaware of Scottish Labour policy and ignorant of what is and isn’t devolved.
“Owen Smith is completely at odds with Scottish Labour on a second referendum and on Trident – and this is the candidate backed by Kezia Dugdale – but we welcome a Labour voice acknowledging that it is ultimately for the Scottish people to decide on a second referendum.
“But what’s most galling is that Mr Smith brushed off the promises made to the people of Scotland on EU membership and on shipbuilding during the independence referendum campaign saying that these were ‘contingent’ on Labour being in power.
“Such a dismissive attitude to these broken promises only reminds people in Scotland that Labour campaigned shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories during the referendum – a fact that has haunted Labour ever since and which will continue to do so.”
Mr Smith used the interview on BBC Radio Scotland to demand a second referendum on EU membership after the terms of leaving were clearly set out and understood.
He said the public might change their mind once they knew exactly what was being proposed.
Mr Smith justified his call for a new poll on Britain’s relationship with the EU on grounds that the Leave campaign had “lied”.
Referring to figures, later retracted, about how spending on the NHS would change under a Brexit deal, he said: “They [the public] were lied to. There is no doubt about that.”
He said it was necessary to understand the terms of any Brexit deal and then go back to the public “to either rubber stamp the deal or reject it”.
He said: “If we have worse workers’ rights…worse terms of trade with other parts of the world the British people may choose to change their minds.”
Mrs May held the first meeting of her new cabinet at Chequers that the government had to get on with exiting the EU.
Ministers convened to exchange ideas on how this would be achieved following a summer of major disruption in British politics.
According to a statement, Mrs May told her colleagues: “We will have an update on Brexit; we’ll be looking at the next steps that we need to take, and we’ll also be looking at the opportunities that are now open to us as we forge a new role for the UK in the world.
“That means there’s no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we’re actually going to deliver on this.”
She indicated that Britain would be seeking to maintain a firm control of immigration, even though this may deny access to the single market.
Mrs May is not expected to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty to start the exit procedure until next year.
Chancellor Philip Hammond believes access to the single market could be maintained “on a sector-by-sector basis” while the so-called Brexit minister David Davis, and trade minister Liam Fox believe Britain can only crackdown on the vexed issue of migration by leaving the single market.
French President Francois Hollande has said that Britain could not opt in to certain parts of the single market without accepting freedom of movement.