KEIR Starmer has rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s bid to make the next general election a “de facto” referendum. 

Speaking to Scottish journalists, the Labour leader said that even if pro-independence parties were to get over 50 per cent of the popular vote at the next general election, it “doesn’t change the principal position.” 

Last week, the First Minister outlined plans for a second referendum in October next year. 

Ms Sturgeon’s told MSPs she had asked the Lord Advocate to seek a ruling from the Supreme Court on Holyrood holding Indyref2 without Westminster’s consent.

If the Court says Holyrood lacks the power to do so, then Ms Sturgeon said she would use the general election expected in 2024 as a ‘de facto referendum’ and try to start independence negotiations with London if the SNP win a majority of votes cast.

Yesterday, it emerged that the Lord Advocate was not confident that the Scottish Government would win that case, teeing up an election that could be even more dominated by the constitution that normal. 

Sir Keir said: “We go into that election making a case for change. We go into that election making the case for a Labour government for the whole United Kingdom. And in the local elections I came to Scotland and the thing that came up everywhere I went was the cost of living. 

“People saying ‘I can’t pay my bills, Keir. I'm really struggling to make ends meet, my energy bills have gone up, my wages haven't gone up, prices go through the roof’. 

“Inflation is going through the roof but I want to see a government that can actually do something about it. And so we want to fight the next general election on strengthening the economy, turning that around and actually answering what I think is the number one priority issue for most people living in Scotland, living across the whole United Kingdom.”

Anas Sarwar said that “no matter what the SNP might say, it is not a de facto referendum. It's not gonna be Scotland against England. It's gonna be Boris against Britain.”

Both Mr Sarwar and Sir Keir refused to be drawn on what the democratic route to an independence referendum might be.

The Scottish Labour leader said: “I think it for those who seek to break up the country to tell you what they think the route for that is. I believe in Scotland as part of a United Kingdom, I believe the majority of people do not want a referendum. I believe even people who vote Yes, many of them didn't want a referendum.

"And what I have to do, what Keir has to do, is to persuade people that the choice is not between the Tories and the status quo or between austerity and independence.

"There is a choice that demonstrates change but also makes Scotland stronger within a reforming, modernising, diverse, outward looking UK. What we're going to do is serve that change and seek the support of the Scottish people to deliver."

Sir Keir said he agreed. “This is very important. If you want change, vote in a Labour government.  That is going to be what's on the ballot at the next general election.

"If you want change, vote in a Labour government. Vote Labour for change.

"For a Labour government that will change the whole of the UK for the better and change Scotland for the better

However, Sir Keir said there would be no change when it came to Brexit

“Across the whole United Kingdom, people voted either way. I completely understand that.

"But we've left. And the question now is whether we spend the whole time looking over our shoulder, or whether we look at the road ahead, and I think we should look at the road ahead. 

“We have left. Whichever way we voted, that is the reality of the situation and instead of simply saying the slogan, get Brexit done we've got to actually focus on making Brexit work.”

Asked if he agreed with his leader, Mr Sarwar said: “I would be inconsistent If I said, I don't support a second independence referendum, but I do support us reopening the Brexit referendum. 

“That would be an inconsistent approach. And I think it's perfectly reasonable to say on those two big divisive issues, let's not entrench Scotland and the UK into those camps again, let's try and move on from that division.

“In saying that though, are there massive flaws in Brexit? Of course there are. That impacts and impacts the whole of the UK. 

“An incoming Labour government will have to fix many of those problems.

"Do we need a government in the UK that isn't going to pick deliberate fights with the European Union in order to try and do some chest-beating Tory-ism and try and show a strong British state or actually work in the national interest, in the British interest in terms of doing what's best for the country on trade and the economy? Of course we do.

"That fundamental change will benefit Scotland and will benefit the UK.“