KEIR Starmer journeyed up north for an interview with Martin Geissler on The Sunday Show. It was an illuminating segment, not so much because of what Starmer said but what he refused to say.

He was asked a straightforward question about whether the Union is voluntary and – if it is – what the democratic route for Scotland to leave it is.

In response, the Labour leader said that of course the Union is voluntary. He said he believes in the Union and is determined to make it work for all of its constituent parts.

He stated that the problems we face won’t be solved by erecting a border between Scotland and England. He said he was fighting to win the next General Election and promised a Labour government would work in Scotland’s best interests.

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All interesting stuff, but none of it actually answers the question he was asked. Fair play to Geissler, who wasn’t going to let him get away that easily. He told Starmer: “But I asked you if it was a voluntary Union, and you said you thought it was, so what is the democratic route out of that Union, if one nation doesn’t want to be part of it anymore?”

(Read: “Please don’t make me do a Paxman and repeat the same question 18 times.”)

Starmer replied: “Well, look, we need to make our arguments, we need to have our priorities, and my priority is stabilising the economy.’’

(Read: “My priority is getting through this interview without admitting that there are no circumstances under which I would agree to allow an independence referendum.”)

“What if people don’t agree with you and they want out? Are they stuck in it?’’ Geissler went on.

“Well of course they’re not stuck in it!’’ Starmer insisted. “They’re not stuck in it but this is about priorities. What is the priority at the moment? The priority at the moment is people paying their bills, it’s growing the economy.”

(“They’re stuck in it. My priority is keeping them stuck in it.”)

The National: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaking at the TUC congress at the Brighton Centre in Brighton. Picture date: Thursday October 20, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story INDUSTRY TUC. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Geissler went on to point out that the SNP have won every election at every level in Scotland for the last 15 years. He asked the Labour leader what he would say to the person who votes for the SNP because they want independence and is now being told “we know better than you”.

Starmer gave a bullish response that once again, didn’t quite answer the question. He replied: “It’s been 15 years of failure. Look at the health service, look at all those people on the waiting lists, look at the fact that economic growth has been negligible.’’

(“Don’t mention Labour-run Wales. Please don’t mention Labour-run Wales.”)

To his credit, Geissler tried again. He asked if the Labour manifesto for the next General Election would include a timeline, a route map – anything – that would explain how Scots get the chance to have their say on the constitutional question.

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Starmer’s answer contained a lot of words that amounted to one single, defiant, undemocratic no. Instead of a route to indyref2, Labour would instead offer “a powerful case for the Union”.

The subject of the upcoming judgment from the Supreme Court was next. Would Starmer respect the outcome, if the court rules in favour of the Scottish Government?

Ah, replied the former director of public prosecutions, well, about that …

He said that if that happened, it would merely be a legal opinion that Holyrood could hold a referendum, not a valid political case to say it should.

Time was running out, so Geissler had one last go at getting an answer from the slippery Labour leader. “If the highest court in the land says Holyrood can hold a referendum, and the party of government in Holyrood who has promised the electorate a referendum says we want to deliver that, you still say they shouldn’t be able to hold that? That’s completely undemocratic, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Politics is about priorities,” Starmer replied.

Indeed it is. It’s clear that for independence supporters in Scotland, Labour still isn’t open for business. Despite the tumultuous events of the last eight years, the party still sees no need for compromise on the independence question.

Nobody expects Labour to suddenly support Scotland breaking away from the UK, given how ferociously they defended the status quo in 2014. But refusing to engage with the political reality in Scotland is undemocratic in the extreme.

Viewers who watched that interview can join the dots for themselves. Labour’s position on indyref2 is no different to that of the UK Government.

It doesn’t matter how Scotland votes, or how many mandates the SNP accrues in the years ahead. There are no circumstances in which either of the main Westminster parties will give Scots the chance to have their say.

In which case, the answer to Geissler’s original question is clear. No, the Union is not voluntary.