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UK's Labour not ruling out another Scottish independence vote

GLASGOW, Scotland (Reuters) - Britain’s opposition Labour party does not rule out allowing another Scottish independence referendum should it be voted into power, its finance spokesman said on Friday, although he saw the issue as a distraction given Britain’s current problems.

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John McDonnell said a British Labour government would consider whether to grant permission for a Scottish referendum if backed by the devolved parliament should the case arise, even though it opposes Scotland splitting from the United Kingdom.

Scotland was long a Labour heartland but since 2015 it has been dominated by the pro-independence Scottish National Party, which has won over old Labour supporters. To win national power in Britain, Labour would likely have to win swathes of left-leaning Scotland.

In a 2014 referendum, Scots voted 55-45 percent against splitting from the United Kingdom. Nationalism has dominated Scottish politics since and support for independence is currently at around 45 percent.

Last year, Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May refused to allow a new independence vote despite the devolved Scottish parliament voting for one, arguing “now is not the time.”

Britain’s national parliament is currently deeply divided over what shape the nation’s exit from the European Union should take, the biggest political change in at least four decades.

Kicking off a tour of Scotland, McDonnell said everything beyond Brexit and poverty was a side-show.

“What we’re trying to do is deal with the two crucial issues at the moment - one is Brexit and the other is trying to transform our economy. All the rest is a complete distraction,” he said.

“If (the need for permission for a Scottish independence vote) arises then we will consider it then, but it’s a hypothetical at the moment,” he added.

Scotland’s pro-independence First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is under pressure from some nationalists to push for a second independence vote. She has said she will set out her plans for Scotland once it is clear what Brexit means.

Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison