In Leeds today, Keir Starmer, flanked by former-PM Gordon Brown, unveiled Labour’s plans for UK constitutional reform. There is a clue in that first sentence as to why it’s not going to blunt moves towards Scottish independence. This report is about Labour reclaiming its so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats from the Tories and it offers nothing new for Scotland. In fact, it confirms that Labour are committed to Brexit and therefore the power grab that goes with it. The key recommendations are focussed on England and the English regions, with the devolved nations as an afterthought. Included in the report is the abolition of the House of Lords and further powers for the English regions. For Scotland, we can expect more promises of increased devolution for the Scottish Parliament, a tune we’ve heard played by Brown and Labour time and again.
5 Things to know about this report and what it means for Scotland:
1. Scotland gains no new major powers
The report says that Labour will not abolish the Scottish Parliament, a condescending statement as they already promised that in ‘the Vow’ in 2014, and the people of Scotland would not accept its closure under any circumstances. The report says that Scotland would be able to enter into international agreements when it comes to devolved matters. Devolved matters however do not include issues of EU membership, retention of nuclear weapons/participation in illegal wars, trade deals and immigration – all the actual powers that would help Scotland’s economy. Scotland would also have access to regional support through the British Regional Investment Bank. Not only is Scotland not a ‘region’, this is also a policy that is only required because of decades of Westminster mismanagement of Scotland’s natural and economic wealth. In fact, Scotland already has its own National Investment Bank– evidently Labour is having trouble coming up with original ideas for devolution.
2. It doesn’t lay a path back into the EU for Scotland
Central to Labour’s plan for the next election is to rebuild the ‘Red Wall’ in the North of England. This requires a full commitment to Brexit that the Scottish people will never accept.
With 72% of Scots saying they would vote Remain if the vote was held today and with Labour offering no path back into the EU, it is clear that Scottish voices will once again be silenced on this issue.
Labour have said we need stronger economic growth but won’t rejoin the Single Market, the one thing that would guarantee this. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning to promote the report, Starmer made the remarkable claim that rejoining the EU and being part of the world’s biggest single market wouldn’t boost economic growth, saying: “I don’t think it would. And there’s no case for going back to the EU or going back into the single market.” Starmer has previously claimed the opposite, so is he lying now or was he lying then? The OBR has forecast the UK faces a 4 per cent fall in economic growth compared to if we had remained in the EU – so no one can take such claims seriously. Clearly independence is Scotland’s only route back into the EU.
3. There’s no commitment to the reforms they’ve promised
Labour is proposing what they say are radical solutions to a widespread constitutional crisis facing the whole of the UK. However, when these policies are examined in detail, the end result is underwhelming. There is a promise to abolish the undemocratic House of Lords, within Labour’s first term. That is a promise they have been making for a century and have failed to deliver on every time they have been in office and had the power to act. The House of Lords represents a serious issue in the political structure of the UK but the proposed reforms are still subject to further consultation – so they will be watered down. If Labour are serious about offering long-term, systemic change as soon as possible, why can they still not commit even now to the most important proposal from this paper?
4. Federalism is unworkable for Scotland
This report once again presents federalism/devolution as an alternative to Scottish independence but this is a pipe dream. England has 84% of the UK population and federalism cannot work under these conditions. To sell Federalism to the wider UK public would require major parties to concede that the UK system is broken beyond repair and commit to truly radical solutions. This would also require a UK wide referendum and England won’t vote for it. Also to say they have a mandate to change the constitution with a Westminster General Election majority but that the SNP can’t change the constitution as it refers to Scotland with a majority of MPs is just dishonest and antidemocratic.
Independence is normal but Labour still refuses to give countenance to that fact. Once again, they offer a bland unworkable compromise between unionism and independence, which is actually err…more unionism. While federalism is championed by Labour as the winning democratic solution to save a broken Britain, in practice they do not offer the radical solutions they promise.
5. Labour will ignore the wishes of the people of Scotland
The plans announced by Labour today require that the Scottish people abandon their commitment to independence and accept a bland list of recycled constitutional reforms that should have been implemented last century, dredged up by an ex-Prime Minister who never won a General election and has lost all credibility when it comes to making promises to Scotland. Labour cannot accept that everything changed after the first independence referendum and Brexit which followed.
While this conference and paper did acknowledge the UK is broken, they refuse to admit that blocking a second referendum is the most high-profile example of the British state’s disregard for democracy. Keir Starmer as PM would not listen to the people of Scotland and if any extra powers offered to Scotland don’t allow us back into the EU or at least the Single Market then they do nothing for Scotland. At the press conference for the launch of this report, Gordon Brown stated that Labour would push on with these proposed constitutional reforms even if the people of Scotland reject them at the ballot box – which they will.
In the end, isn’t that all you need to know about Brown and how far Labour have fallen?