Gordon Brown: Scotland needs to 'heal' from coronavirus before any second independence referendum

Simon Johnson
Gordon Brown speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr -  pixel GRG
Gordon Brown speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr - pixel GRG

Scotland needs to "heal" the devastation wrought by coronavirus before another independence referendum is staged, Gordon Brown has said after the SNP's Westminster leader said it must be held in 2021.

The former Prime Minister argued this was "not the right time at all" as Scotland is in the middle of a pandemic and a deep recession, which could have a long-lasting economic impact.

Amid intense controversy over whether Boris Johnson will allow Nicola Sturgeon to have another vote, Mr Brown argued the real question was whether one "should" happen at the current time.

His intervention came after Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said his party “must” plan for a second independence referendum in 2021.

Mr Blackford predicted another separation vote would happen next year, despite Boris Johnson's refusal to hand over the necessary powers, and apologised to nationalists for it not happening in 2020.

But Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said it "beggars belief" that the SNP Commons leader was arguing that "as lives and livelihoods continue to be lost, Scotland needs yet more division, chaos and uncertainty."

The row broke out following a series of opinion polls showing majority support for separation amid high approval ratings for Ms Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic.

However, they have also indicated that another referendum is low on Scots' list of priorities, with education, the NHS and the economy deemed more important.

Mr Brown told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “The question at the moment is not whether you could have a referendum, the question is whether you should have a referendum. We’re in the middle of a virus, we’re in the middle of a recession.”

Arguing Scotland was dealing with “huge problems”, he said: “There is a time to heal, there’s got to be a time to heal before you go into any divisive, conflicting referendum that really will cause consternation in Scotland for months and months to come.”

He added: “I think most Scottish people will make up their mind that in the middle of a virus when you’ve got to heal the virus, you’ve got to heal the recession and you’ve got to look at the whole future of Britain – and the SNP have got to come clean about what it now means for independence, now you’ve got economic changes taking place – I don’t think this is the right time at all.”

Mr Ross said: "Ian Blackford's commitment to a referendum a few months from now is not just irresponsible but delusional and shows how out of touch the SNP are.

In an interview with the separation-supporting Sunday National newspaper, Mr Blackford said the party "had to, from a tactical point of view, put off holding a referendum in 2020 and I apologise that that was the case." 

However, he said the SNP would have a platform to hold indyref2 "quickly" when the crisis was over and they emerged victorious in May's Holyrood election.