Jeremy Corbyn has rowed back on his total refusal to hold a Scottish independence referendum in his first term.
The Labour leader had told reporters there would be “no referendum in the first term for a Labour Government” even if the SNP won a majority of Scottish seats in the upcoming General Election.
But aides immediately began to dampen the comments to say the position could change if Nicola Sturgeon’s party wins control of Holyrood in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.
Hours later, Mr Corbyn – who began a two-day tour of Scotland in Glasgow on Wednesday – instead said he did “not countenance” another independence referendum in “the early years” of a Labour Government during a combative exchange with reporters.
“I think the confusion is with you, if I may say so, not me,” he said in an interview at Tannochside Miners Welfare Club in Uddingston, South Lanarkshire.
“We will not countenance an indy referendum in the early years of a Labour Government because our priorities will be elsewhere.”
Pressed further on whether he would grant a vote if the SNP took Holyrood, Mr Corbyn replied: “I’m not in favour of it at all because I think the priorities for Scotland are ending inequality, poverty and injustice across Scotland and independence will bring with it an economic problem for Scotland.”
His first total dismissal angered the SNP as Labour tries to take back some of the seats it lost to the Nationalists, who won a landslide victory in Scotland’s 59 constituencies in the 2015 General Election.
Although Labour made a slight recovery in the 2017 ballot, the SNP still has 35 Scottish constituencies in the last Parliament.
SNP social justice spokesman Neil Gray said: “With the once-dominant Scottish Labour Party now at the point of extinction and Labour voters turning to the SNP, Jeremy Corbyn is in absolutely no position to tell the people of Scotland if and when they can have a say over their own future.
“As we have made crystal clear, no one looking for support from the SNP after this election should bother to even pick up the phone unless they are prepared to accept the democratically expressed will of Scotland.”
Mr Corbyn also said he did not intend to work with the SNP in government if Labour fails to win a majority – but did not rule it out.
“We are not fighting this election to form a coalition with anybody and we have no intention of forming a coalition with anyone. We are not doing deals, we are not doing pacts,” he said.
Elsewhere, Labour pledged to outspend the Tories by investing an additional £26 billion in the NHS to rebuild “crumbling” hospitals and improve patient care.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell, in London, said his party was offering an annual average 4.3% real-terms increase in health spending over the next four years.
While the spending pledge was widely welcomed by health groups, Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed Labour’s plan for a four-day week would cost the NHS a fortune.
In Glasgow, during his first speech of his Scottish tour, Mr Corbyn tried to dissuade voters from backing the SNP by stressing only Labour or the Tories could form a UK Government.
“Nobody else can form a Government,” he told supporters at the Heart of Scotstoun community centre.
He reiterated his pledge to invest more than £70 billion in Scotland as part of his “green industrial revolution” to boost jobs while tackling the climate crisis.