Labour's U Turn on the Lords signals end of Union with Scotland

Labour has changed its mind on the policy that was central to its plan for maintaining the Union with Scotland. Now the policy of replacing the House of Lords with a Senate of the Nations and Regions is in the dustbin and with it any coherent strategy for reforming the UK and answering Scotland’s legitimate concerns about lack of democracy. 

Labour under Keir Starmer has admitted that England cannot be bothered to make the changes which even Gordon Brown argues are necessary to make the UK function in a way that works for Scotland. This is good news for supporters of Scottish independence - the Labour Party has confirmed it has nothing meaningful to offer. 

Make no mistake: this may not seem a pressing issue to those worried about food and energy costs but the Lords represents a huge structural weakness at the heart of the UK. There is a major power imbalance between the four countries of the UK. Other states such as Switzerland, and Canada use the second chamber to balance the interests of different territories - the UK does not. 

With this U turn, Labour has effectively announced that it has given up on its plan to reform the Union and address the demands of Scotland to take more control of its affairs. They have now abandoned that and they have no plan B. 


Why should Scotland’s elected Parliament play second fiddle to England’s “Lords”?

Commentators in the UK media have condemned Boris Johnson’s disgraceful ‘honours list’ –  people famous only for partying during lockdown and skipping duties as Kabul fell in favour of a deckchair at the Oval to watch the cricket. He has ennobled his tennis partner and a 29-year-old intern of few discernible achievements. This has caused some anger although compared with the elevation of Evgeny Lebedev, bankrolled by his KGB father and Peter Cruddas, the latest outrages are tame.

Few UK commentators seem to know or care, however, that there is a Scottish dimension to this story. In his best-selling book “How Britain Ends”, Gavin Esler argues that if England was serious about maintaining the Union, it would already have abolished the House of Lords. 

Gordon Brown agrees. He understood that Westminster’s Upper House is an abject failure when it comes to representing Scotland’s interests – and adds to the demand for independence. He put replacing it with a Senate of the Nations and Regions at the heart of his plan to create a reformed and re-energised UK.

But Starmer has now indicated that instead of abolishing the Lords as promised, he will make dozens more Labour peers and tinker with the appointments committee. That is a strong statement about where maintaining the Union comes on Labour’s priority list – somewhere near the foot. 


The House of Lords has no link to Scotland’s people

There is nobody among the 800-plus members of the Lords who can claim to represent the majority of Scotland’s MPs who are SNP. No independence supporters accept peerages - and some Labour MPs like Gordon Brown also refuse them. It is a Unionist anti-reform club where those who climb to the top of the UK’s greasy pole get the lifelong right to legislate – and to claim £350 a day expenses when they show up. There is no one who could even reasonably hope to win a Scottish seat in the House of Commons if they stood for election. 

There are a few elderly peers who were once elected Labour MPs, such as George Foulkes – famous for knocking over an old lady as he exited a whisky tasting. Ruth Davidson former leader of the Scottish Conservatives would also be very unlikely to win a Westminster seat. She was a list MSP for the Glasgow region but came a distant fourth when she stood as the constituency candidate for Glasgow Kelvin.

Other Scots who have been elevated to the upper house for services to Unionism have had even less of a brush with democracy. Michelle Mone argued in 2014 that business people like her would flee the country if Scotland became independent. She later left on a yacht – mired in scandal over PPE contracts. Propagandist Malcolm Offord failed to win election and was then given a peerage and a Ministerial post. 

In the place of a body which would be regarded as legitimate by Scots, the senior house of the Westminster Parliament is a dog’s breakfast, packed with a random selection of individuals, many of whom have donated money to or curried favour with Labour or Conservative PMs. 


And yet the House of Lords is the boss of Holyrood

According to the UK Supreme Court, Westminster has all sovereignty and it only lends powers to the Scottish Parliament. The democratic voice of the Scottish people does not matter. 

Time and time again the UK Parliament’s Upper House is allowed to debate and amend legislation which affects the everyday life of Scots. The Internal Markets Act means Scotland is held rigidly to what England decides – it can’t even ban plastic wet wipes, which take 100 years to disintegrate. 

Holyrood is not allowed to debate and amend this legislation. Holyrood just has to suck up whatever the Lords decide. In 13 cases since 2016 that are either passed or pending, Westminster has forced legislation on Scotland that Holyrood did not consent to. But elected Scottish MSPs don’t have a voice. 

Many countries are made up of semi-autonomous territories – all with more powers than the Scottish Parliament currently has. From the USA to Germany, Switzerland to Canada, elected representatives of these areas sit together in a second chamber which gives the different territories fair representation, regardless of population. 


The balance of power in the UK is off

But that is not a priority for the Labour Party. They realise there is no appetite in England to abolish the House of Lords – because people there do not know or care how the balance of power between the four nations of the UK is calibrated. 

Labour’s screeching U Turn on the House of Lords may not be front and centre for people who are worried about very immediate concerns like the cost of living. But what does it say about Labour’s priorities and principles? This would be a fundamental plank of any party that was serious about reforming the broken UK and addressing the power imbalance at its heart. 

The political, social and cultural gap between Scotland and England grows wider day by day. With this U turn, the Labour Party is effectively throwing in the towel on the reforms that Gordon Brown and other Scottish commentators regarded as vital to save the Union. 

That is great news for the independence movement and brings forward the day when Scotland will get its independence.