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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7 Responses to “Could devo-max be the answer to Labour’s Scottish woes?”

  1. uglyfatbloke

    Devo-max should be the answer, but after the ‘least we can get away with’ policies of the last umpteen years – including Smith and the silly ‘vow’ – who is going to believe it will be delivered?
    On top of that there’s the matter of personnel. Several of the MSPs who were elected via the AMS list were exactly the people that the electorate wanted top see the back of.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald

    I think that the self deprecating gentleman above has got to the nub of the issue. There is no sincerity in any of Labour’s proposals, just self preservation of the small, exclusive and excluding clique who have again been elected as MSPs and their cronies who were turfed out at last year’s GE. They have a sense of entitlement and a visceral self pitying sense of ‘betrayal’ by lifelong Labour voters like me and the rest of the 200 000 ‘old west of Scotland men’, as we were balefully described. We were ‘deluded’, Scotland was ‘deluded’.
    What, Mr Jacobs is suggesting might well have been acceptable to large numbers of Scotland’s residents, as recently as three years ago. But, now it looks like the next ‘least we can get away with’. The Labour Party in Scotland is wailing that ‘people are not listening to them’ in tones which indicate that it is the ‘fault’ of the people. Most of us are not listening, because Labour in Scotland has nothing credibly sincere to say, nor are the speakers respected or admired.
    Devo max or federalism is the least they can go for, but, I suspect that they might have to go as far as not being hostile to independence. They also have to start exposing the lie of austerity – it is the redistribution of wealth and power from the vast majority of us, including the ‘ragged trousered philanthropists’ to the very few who exercise control via the City, the upper echelons of the Civil Service and the Law.

  3. Phil Doherty

    And within this articles lies the problem WITH Labour. It was rejected by the voters because it appeared soft on indy. So the proposed solution? Be even softer on indy! Are you mad! Are you just so ideologically driven you cannot see what the rest of us are seeing? As someone who controls upteenth olitical social media pages and interacting with thousands of voters in Scotland every single week I can categorically tell you that if Labour goes for Home Rule or Indy it will see a disaster happen to it like you’ve never seen before!
    You do not win elections by peeing off your remaining support – those Lab supporters who are pro-uk! Already since this has been muted Lab pro-UK supporters are saying they’ll NEVER vote for Labour again!
    This is about perceptions – and the perception being formed with this proposal is that Labour definitely cannot be trusted on this issue.

  4. Jimmy Glesga

    My answer to A. MacD above is why did Labour voters turn to the right wing Nat si party. My personal view is prosperity has increased in Scotland and moreso when Blair was in office. The old history of class struggle fought by the Labour and Trade Union movement against poverty and working conditions is already forgotten and is in the dustbin of history. Labour had no where to go they have done their job. The Scottish Nats will attempt to rewrite history and will claim they were at the forefront of the class struggle. Us oldies will have to content ourselves with the truth.

  5. Shaun Cohen

    An excellent idea, Britain is out of step with the rest of Europe in its internal political arrangements. a federal Britain proposal would undermine the chauvinism that lays at the heart of the English Laws for England nonsense. Alongside this it would be much easier (not that it is difficult) to call for the abolition of the House of Lords.

  6. Gregor Addison

    How different would things be if the Labour Party had supported a Devo Max option in the referendum? Now, with the vote safely out of the way, there are those in the party who are calling for just that option to be revisited. It seems too little too late. A federal solution to the UK’s problems will not be seriously considered until voters in England are convinced that Federalism is a solution to any problem they have. At the moment it’s not even on their radar. And there’s no guarantee that a middle road option can be delivered. It may even damage Labour’s support in England. And there’s no guarantee that it will be an effective strategy in Scotland, since many voters no longer believe Labour on the constitution. The debate now seems focused on the Union versus Independence. If there is no middle way then that is the fault of the Labour Party who decided to join Better Together and reject a Devo Max option during the referendum. As for Labour’s future prospects in Scotland, they look grim – if you look at how the SNP replaced them in most of the cities, then it doesn’t bode well for Labour’s chances in next year’s local elections. The party is being eroded further and further and losing money and new talent as a result. It’s from that platform that Labour has to try and convince voters that their conversion to Devo Max, or “Home Rule”, is not only an honest one but a credible option.

  7. Phil Doherty

    Futile post now – Labour has ruled it out!

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