Could devo-max be the answer to Labour’s Scottish woes?

Radical ideas on constitutional reform might give Labour an edge over the SNP

 

As the dust settles on devastating elections for Scottish Labour, attention must now turn to what the party needs to do to regain substantial lost ground.

And make no bones about it, reclaiming such ground is vital to any prospect of Labour making its way back into Downing Street.

The figures are stark. Last year’s General Election saw the party secure just over 30 per cent of the vote, a result which led to the near total wipe out of Scottish Labour representation at Westminster. Last week, the vote share plummeted to a little over 22 per cent.

Telegraph Holyrood

(Source: Telegraph)

There are clearly no easy answers and the party will need to undertake some serious and potentially radical thinking about how it makes itself relevant in Scotland again.

A good start would be to establish a clear and consistent policy on Scotland’s constitutional future. The reality is that despite Kezia Dugdale’s valiant efforts to move debate on to discussion around public services, the people of Scotland were concerned more about what the future shape of Scotland would look like.

Ruth DavidsonRuth Davidson’s success lay squarely in her opposition to independence.

Building on her personal charisma and popularity, she ran a clear campaign: make me leader of the opposition to hold the SNP’s feet to the fire and prevent a second independence vote happening any time soon.

She succeeded, and no doubt in the process secured the votes of traditional Labour supporters, anxious about the prospect of Scotland going it alone.

At the heart of Labour’s problem was the confusion surrounding its position on Scotland’s place in the UK.

During an interview with the Fabian Review midway through the campaign, Kezia Dugdale clearly raised the prospect of her supporting independence if Scotland was made to leave the European Union against its will.

While she later sought to row back on the comments, it highlights the confused message being sent to the public.

Scottish Labour’s position therefore is tricky.

It needs to offer an alternative to independence that is radical enough to regain the support of once Labour voters who backed independence in 2014, while simultaneously regaining the support of those who saw the Conservatives as the most effective champion for the union this time around.

Kezia DugdaleWhile the answers are complex, the party should give serious consideration to supporting devo-max, enabling the Scottish Parliament and government to control everything other than foreign affairs and defence policy.

Radical? Yes. But it is an option that poll after poll shows a substantial proportion of people in Scotland support and would provide the clear alternative to the SNP that is needed.

What is more, this could form part of a wider UK Labour party policy of complete federalism.

The party still has an England problem that will not go away. It needs to show that it is able to champion the needs of those in southern England every bit as much as those across Scotland and Wales.

It can do so most effectively by admitting that the current constitutional settlement is lopsided.

Why not then give England its own Assembly, with the same powers as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with a UK wide Parliament focussed on UK wide issues rather and a muddled policy of English Votes for English Laws adopted by the government?

Yes, such a policy would have its dangers, but the danger in not being this radical is that Labour remains as far away from power as it has ever been.

The UK has changed for ever. We live in a multi-party country in which no one party dominates anything. It is time for the constitutional to recognise this and be adapted accordingly.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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