When Scottish Labour’s federalist dreams crumble, what next?
I was going to write a sarcastic blog about the irony of Scottish Labour’s quest for independence after years of telling us we are Better Together.
Then I realised I had done that before. Besides, when you look into the matter the situation is more nuanced than that. The Scottish Labour quest for autonomy is actually consistent with their current proposed solution to the constitutional crisis.
Sometime recently, Scottish Labour have become federalists.
It is their preferred solution to the Brexit crisis. They have assigned Lord Falconer to investigate the matter. In theoretical terms it makes sense, it is a way to honour what they fought for in both referendums: a Scotland within the EU and the UK.
Now it is fair to say that this position is a far cry from the position they took recently during the Smith Commission. The powers for Scotland they fought for then fell well short of federalism. However, they might argue that Brexit was a game changer in that respect and has forced them to look at a more radical solution.
When you look at their plan for Scottish Labour autonomy, it too is a federal solution. They don’t want to split completely from the UK party, they just want to have much more power.
If their proposal is successful:
- The Scottish Labour Party Executive Committee (SEC) will be responsible for the procedures and selection of all UK parliamentary candidates in Scotland.
- The SEC will have overall responsibility for the management of Constituency Labour Parties in Scotland.
- The Scottish Labour Party will be directly represented with voting rights on the NEC by a frontbench member of the Scottish Parliament, nominated by the Scottish Labour leader.
- Scottish Labour will have full control over policy making, including in reserved policy areas.
Critics have argued that autonomy with regards to reserved policy is a bit problematic as detailed in this BBC interview. That said, Dugdale’s overall aims are reasonable.
Both policies are consistent with each other. In each situation they want to stay within the larger entity but they want much more power devolved. If Scottish Labour could somehow pull off the coup of a federal Scotland within the EU and a federal Scottish Labour within the UK I would be the first to congratulate them. Both developments would be a great step in the right direction and a reasonable compromise given the situation we are in.
The problem they have is that in both cases they are highly unlikely to get what they want.
In order to win Scottish Labour autonomy, they have to win a vote at conference, but those supporting Corbyn have advised that they will veto the plan. This means Dugdale has a massive battle on her hands to make this work.
More unlikely is a federal UK anytime soon. There is nobody with any power to deliver who is advocating this. The Conservative Party have enough on their plate dealing with the Article 50 negotiations, they are not also going to arrange a federal UK while this is happening.
So, while Labour’s goals are laudable, they are a pipe dream. In all probability they are doomed to failure.
Maybe they know this and they are using them as a delaying tactic. They may well be aware that in the near future they are going to find themselves in a horrible position. They will still be trapped in a powerless branch office of a divided Labour party, being dragged against its will out of the EU. At this point they will need to confront the question they have been trying to avoid.
We have asked them this before. When the “Best Of Both Worlds” is no longer an option will they choose the EU or the UK?.
Will they choose to be an accounting unit of a fallen party, within an isolated, unrepresentative and decaying UK. Or will they choose to take control of their own destiny, within an outward looking, more democratic Scotland?
By striving for autonomy now, they are surely going to look stupid if, when push comes to shove, they reluctantly choose dependence.
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