Keir Starmer has indicated that the Supreme Court will not be able to determine whether there should be a Scottish independence referendum.
The UK’s highest court is in the process of considering whether the Scottish Parliament would be able to pass legislation allowing a vote on the issue to take place.
However, the Labour leader said that the case will not answer the “political question” of whether a referendum should be held.
It is the intention of the Scottish Government to hold a vote on independence in October next year.
The UK Government has argued that Holyrood does not have the legislative competence in order to proceed.
Speaking on the BBC’s The Sunday Show, Starmer insisted that focus must be on stabilising the economy and addressing the cost of living crisis.
However, he did acknowledge the number of people in Scotland that are “fed up” with the Conservatives at Westminster.
Reflecting on the Holyrood election in 2021, Starmer underlined the need to prioritise the economy, rather than focusing on a referendum.
“I listened and watched very carefully the arguments into that election here in Scotland,” he said.
“And all parties were saying the priority has to be recovery after Covid.”
Starmer continued: “Every party going into that election last time here in Scotland were saying loudly, and rightly in my view, that recovery from the pandemic needs to be the central issue.
“Around people’s tables tonight, they will be talking about whether they can afford to make ends meet.
“That is the central most important issue, the economy, and the next election will be fought on the economy.
“And the choice will be – carry on with this utter chaos and damage under the Tory party or usher in a Labour government which will stabilise the economy and grow the economy.”
The Labour leader was asked whether he thinks the people of Scotland should have the right to determine their own future in a referendum.
He said: “Look, I’m talking about priorities and what is the priority at the moment.
“And for me, the priority is the economy and I think for many, many people across Scotland, many, many people watching this programme, the central concern will be the economy.”
Starmer continued: “I fundamentally reject the argument that the way you grow the economy is to put a border between Scotland and England.
“I don’t think that will help us grow the economy, I think it will make a bad situation worse.
“But we have to be clear that the priority going into that election has to be the economy, has to be the cost of living, has to be answering the question that people are asking around the kitchen table which is can I make ends meet?”
Starmer was pressed on whether he believes the union is a “voluntary organisation” or whether Scotland is “stuck” in it.
“Of course it’s a voluntary organisation,” the Labour MP responded.
“I believe in the union. If I think of all the fantastic things that we’ve achieved as a United Kingdom, we’ve done them together as four nations.
“If I look at the really big challenges that face us – climate change, conflicts such as Ukraine, dealing with energy security – these are issues which it seems to me obviously can only be solved by the four nations as one entity.
“But we need to make the argument for that, I do understand very many people in Scotland say ‘we want change’, fed up with the Tory government back in Westminster.
“It’s my job to sort that out by winning the next general election and actually then we can have a Labour government to work with.
“But if you look at those fundamental challenges, the big challenges facing us are only going to be met with a strong union going forward – a progressive, forward, modern look to our union.”
Starmer said that his argument in favour of the union “remains the same”, even in the event of the Supreme Court ruling that Holyrood is able to pass legislation allowing for a referendum.
He said: “I think it’s good the case has gone to court because I think it’s better to have legal certainties so we all know the base on which we’re operating.
“All the court is going to be able to rule is, if it does rule in favour, that there could or can be, its legally permissible, to have a referendum.
“That doesn’t answer the political question which is should there be a referendum? And my argument remains the same.”