Today’s announcement of further autonomy for Scottish Labour may seem at first glance to be a rather dry paper-shuffling exercise. Agreeing which committee has the final say over candidate selection is not going to set any heather alight. But in it I see the tantalising first glimpse of the promise of something many have been pushing for for a long time: a federal Labour Party.
And in that possibility lies another – that Scottish Labour’s constitutional malaise, in which it finds itself unable to find coherence in a politics polarised over the question of Scottish independence, could find the answer it has been seeking. A Third Way for Scottish constitutional politics? A modern Home Rule? Have we just seen the first step towards Labour adopting a policy of a federal United Kingdom?
I hope so.
It’s inevitable that Scottish politics will eventually emerge from its obsession over where powers lie and into a serious assessment of how we should use them and who we want to place our trust in to do so. It is entirely possible that this will take a lot longer than many in Scottish Labour would like. Potentially many years longer.
Federalism is a clear, pragmatic and distinct answer, and when this period of constitutional obsession does pass, it will give the party of common cause a firm footing from which to set out its stall for narrowing the gap between rich and poor, and ensuring a child’s opportunity is not dependent on their parents’ wealth.
Earlier this year, the Labour Campaign for Federalism launched with these words:
The state we are in has to change – we must recast these islands with a new covenant of nations.
The central question too often lost in our constitutional debate is this: how do we share these islands, this common treasury? In other words, how do ancient nations live with our neighbours to ensure our common good and future prosperity?
A federal future can yet open up new opportunities for all our peoples that might soon be lost to competition and chaos. Our ambition must be to lead, as we have often done before. We must forge a new vision of statehood for the 21st century, moving past the frontiers of 19th century ideas of the nation-state.
It is time for Labour to get on the front foot – to argue for a constitution from a position of values. Equality, solidarity and community.
I hope this nascent federalism campaign group takes succour from Kezia’s words today and kicks off a proper campaign in this area. It truly feels like an idea whose time has come.
As soon as I heard Kezia set out her plans, I knew the response from our political opponents would be to belittle and minimise. The phrase “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” has probably already been used on social media. But if the Labour movement in Scotland is to find our voice and our heart again, our foundations must be fixed first, and this step, alongside the move to acknowledge a range of views on the constitutional question, is a necessary one to secure those foundations.
Scottish Labour’s focus is to close the inequality gap and ensure opportunity for all. We must and we will hold the current Scottish Government to account for their failures. But to be able to mount a credible challenge and ask for the trust of the Scottish people to take on the mantle of government again, we must first find solid ground from which to fight.
Today’s announcement helps create that ground. It is a small step, but it is part of an emerging strategy which suggests to me that our leadership has taken a strategic view and is prepared to take on the long-term challenge of returning Scottish Labour to electability.
More power to your elbow, Kezia.