Richard Leonard: General election isn’t just about Brexit

All the Scottish party leaders are out on the campaign trail ahead of Thursday's election.

Richard Leonard: Public will get Brexit 'final say' within six months. STV
Richard Leonard: Public will get Brexit 'final say' within six months.

Thursday’s general election “isn’t just about Brexit”, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has said, as the campaign enters its frenetic final days.

All the main party leaders in Scotland have been out on the campaign trail on Monday, with less than 72 hours to go until polls open on December 12.

Campaigning outside Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children, the Scottish Labour leader said the election was a choice between five more years of austerity with the Conservatives or investment to “expand” the NHS with Labour.

Labour’s shadow Scotland Office minister Paul Sweeney said on Sunday a compromise deal on a second independence referendum with the SNP is a “possibility” as a way to keep a minority Corbyn government in power.

Speaking at the start of the final week of campaigning, Leonard said the party would not make “any pacts” with others.

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He said Jeremy Corbyn is the only UK party leader “putting forward a democratic solution to the chaos of Brexit”, with Labour promising to negotiate a new, softer Brexit deal with Brussels if it becomes the next government, which it would then put to the public in a “final say” referendum within six months.

But Leonard added: “We are getting across our message that this election isn’t just about Brexit and it’s certainly not a referendum on a referendum on independence – it’s who’s going to be the Government for the next five years.

“In the end, the choice that people have to make is: do they want a Tory Government re-elected for five more years of austerity, a squeeze on living standards and a rolling back of investment in public services?

“Or do they want a Labour Government that will invest in the National Health Service, start to build houses again, turn back austerity and start to rebuild our economy?”

He reiterated his party’s stance that they “will not enter into any pacts, any coalition deals or any other arrangements with other political parties”.

Leonard said: “If we don’t get a majority – if we are a minority Government – we will put our policy programme into the Queen’s Speech and it will be up to other parties as to whether they vote for it or not.

“If the SNP, for example, chose not to support a minority Labour Government’s Queen’s Speech which contained £100bn extra investment into Scotland, then they would have to answer to the people of Scotland why they had not voted for that and potentially why they brought down a minority Labour government.”

Nicola Sturgeon said at the weekend she doesn’t believe Corbyn and the Labour leadership would “turn their backs” on governing by refusing any compromise with the SNP.

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On Monday, she turned her fire on Boris Johnson for indulging in what she claimed was “anti-immigration rhetoric”.

Writing in The Times newspaper, the Prime Minister said EU migrants had been able to “treat the UK as if it’s part of their own country” for too long.

Campaigning in North Lanarkshire, the SNP leader said: “I think Boris Johnson’s dog-whistle comments on migration are just one of many examples why we don’t want him, and shouldn’t want him, to be Prime Minister.

“My view is that, in principle, if somebody comes to Scotland to make it their home and make a contribution here, they should be welcomed.

“And they should be able to treat Scotland as their country and their home because that is what it is and that’s the kind of open, inclusive, tolerant Scotland I want to see, not just now but in the future.”

She added: “There’s also a much more hard-headed argument here.

“We know from our own population projections that Scotland has to be able to attract people from other countries if we are to keep our working age population growing, contributing the tax revenues that then allow us to support our NHS and other public services.

“So this is a really important issue and I think it is really despicable that we’ve got Boris Johnson indulging in this anti-immigration rhetoric.”

Unveiling a new campaign advert against a second independence referendum, Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said the election was on a “knife-edge” north of the border.

Next to an image of the First Minister, the advert reads: “She’s had her say, now you have yours. This Thursday stop IndyRef2.”

Speaking in East Renfrewshire, Carlaw said: “Nicola Sturgeon has had her say during this election campaign.

“She’s said she’d prop up Jeremy Corbyn in Number 10 despite his unsuitability for the job.

“She’s made clear she’ll demand a second independence referendum as early as Friday.”

He added: “In 2017, people came together and backed the Scottish Conservatives.

“It hit the SNP hard and, as a result, we forced Nicola Sturgeon to put indyref2 on hold. We need to tell her again and halt the Nationalists in their tracks.

“Across Scotland, this election is on a knife edge. A few hundred voters could make all the difference.”

Campaigning in the Highlands on Monday, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said he hoped his party could unseat SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford.

In Ross, Skye and Lochaber, Blackford is up again the Lib Dem Craig Harrow, as well as Gavin Berkenheger of the Tories, Labour’s John Erskine, the Brexit party’s Kate Brownlie and candidates from two smaller parties.

Rennie said: “The Liberal Democrats are giving it everything in the last few days of the campaign to win Ian Blackford’s seat from the SNP.

It’s going to be a close contest with lots of people backing us to stop another independence referendum which Nicola Sturgeon wants to hold in a matter of months or even weeks.

“Traditional Conservative and Labour voters are backing the Lib Dems to win this time as they are determined to end the constitutional division in this country.”