Labour leadership hopeful Smith pours cold water on second independence ballot

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Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has said Scotland should not have a second independence referendum - just two days after he stated he would not oppose such a ballot.

The Welsh MP spoke on the day that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched a national survey seeking the views of two million Scots on independence, Europe and Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon cited the "chaos and collapse" in Labour, together with the uncertainty caused by the UK vote to leave the European Union, as two "seismic events" which prompted a fresh look at the constitutional question.

But Mr Smith said the SNP leader should be focusing on health, education and other policy areas that are devolved to Scotland.

He stated: "We've got a set of problems in Scotland, the underfunding of the NHS, a crisis in GP provision, the educational attainment gap growing, she (Ms Sturgeon) should be in my view getting on with those bread and butter issues rather than worrying about another independence referendum. I just don't think there's any need or desire for it."

He made the comment just two days after he said he would not oppose another independence referendum "if the Scottish people chose that's what they wanted and there was agreement in the Labour Party".

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has made clear her party will oppose another vote on leaving the UK in the current five year Holyrood term.

When asked if the policy position should be set by Ms Dugdale or the UK Labour Party, Mr Smith insisted: "Definitely Kez. Same as it's been for a while, so my view is totally unchanged on this."

He told the Press Association: "It is Kezia Dugdale's job as leader of the Scottish Labour Party to determine Scottish Labour's position in respect of a second referendum. She has done that and she agrees with me that there shouldn't be one, I support her in that position that we definitely should not have a second referendum in Scotland.

"It is for Kezia to determine that because that is to be respectful of the autonomy of the Scottish Labour Party and the fact that there is devolution."

As well as arguing there should not be a second independence referendum, Mr Smith said there should also be no repeat of the Better Together campaign of 2014, which saw Labour join forces with the Conservatives to make the case for Scotland staying part of the UK.

"Better Together diminished our power and we would want a separate powerful Labour campaign," the challenger to Jeremy Corbyn said.

"However I don't think there should be a second referendum."

He continued: "I am someone who is fundamentally, deeply a unionist because I believe in socialism for everybody across Britain and I want every family, no matter where they are in Britain, to have maximum chance to achieve their potential. I bellieve fundamentally in redistribution of resource in our country in order to equalise outcomes to a much greater extent, I believe in pooling risks and rewards, and that's what devolution allows and independence doesn't allow that.

"So I think it would be immeasurably impoverishing for Scotland and the UK, impoverishing for all of us, if Scotland were to be independent, so I am totally opposed to Scotland being independent."