david_martin_09David Martin MEP says we can’t move on from the constitutional question until it is solved to the satisfaction of the Scottish people.


Despite Labour’s desire to move on from the debate on the constitution you did not have to speak to many voters during the campaign to discover they were not ready to move with us. The politics of identity trumped the politics of delivery. For many of Labour’s erstwhile supporters, promises on schools, hospitals and housing were overshadowed by their lack of trust on the constitution. Silence on this issue did nothing to reassure.

It felt as though we had nothing to say on this issue when in fact, if properly articulated, Labour’s position on the constitution is where the majority of the Scottish people are. They do not want unbridled unionism or nationalism. They want for Scotland ‘maximum power with maximum security’. Labour, the Party of Home Rule, should have no difficulty in promising such an outcome.

John Smith rightly described devolution as the ‘settled will of the Scottish people’, but for too long we took for granted that we had the right form of devolution. In recent years, through the Calman Commission, the Brown devo-max, the Smith Commission, we have moved – but always it appears chasing events, not leading.

Labour in the coming months needs to sit down, quietly and efficiently, and work out what powers we need in Scotland to deliver economic growth and prosperity. Not devo-max, which struck me as gathering as many powers as one could think of then throwing them into the pot. We need a careful examination of our policy objectives and the powers we have to deliver them. Then we should frame our Home Rule demands in the context of what we want to deliver for the people of Scotland.

Despite Thomas Docherty’s very unhelpful remarks, the 2016 manifesto would be a good starting point. The form of taxation powers given to Scotland gives Scottish politicians a very clear dilemma. Does raising tax to improve public services cost jobs by making you the highest taxed area of the UK? Would a settlement where Scotland raises all its own resources and pays a block grant to the UK for common services be better? It’s an old argument but one we must return to.

Labour has complained that in this election people were not listening. More accurately I would say we were not listening to them. I understood the strategy of trying to move on from the referendum, but if you are not discussing the dominant issue of the day you should not be surprised that your wider message, no matter how positive, is not being listened to. For many who voted Conservative, the unequivocal attachment to the union was an important security blanket. For nationalists, the only long term security comes from a party ‘standing up for Scotland’.

Labour used to offer both, and can do again. Radical Home Rule anchored inside the UK offers Scots the ability to shape their own nation without turning their backs on their neighbours and the security that brings.

Labour set itself a false choice in 2016. We thought that concentrating on radical policies for delivery meant leaving the constitutional argument behind. In fact fusing the two could have got us a better hearing and a better result.

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14 thoughts on “Radical home rule

  1. The only sensible policy Scottish Labour has passed recently was to abandon Trident. Now Comrade Martin wants us to pay a block grant to Westminster to secure our future; a party in turmoil right enough…

  2. When did you realise all this David? I know you’ve been busy in Brussels these last 34 years but is it only now that you realise the perilous state of your party? I would have thought that after the humiliation that was Jim Murphy, when Kezia as his deputy, a young and inexperienced list MSP, found herself in charge, you as one of Scottish Labour’s senior members might have stood up and taken on some of the responsibilities of leadership? Steadied the ship as they say.

  3. ‘Home Rule’ – surely someone in Scotlab must be able to see the problem with this ?

    Firstly Home Rule was promised by Gordon Brown and Alistar Darling during the ref. I have no idea what
    Scotlab thinks about Gordon and Alistair’s exhoration to ‘vote no and get Home Rule’ but it featured large
    in the Ref and many voted no because of it – and we still didn’t get it, angering and frustrating many voters.

    In many people’s eyes Gordon and Alistair are Blairite damaged goods and now because of the the magical
    disappearing Home Rule promise, the whole idea is discredited. If labour begin talking about Home Rule it’ll
    be Gordon and Alistair’s voice they’ll be hearing – (this would not be a good thing, trust me)
    ***Honestly, resurrecting a major constitutional thing Labour promised large during the Ref and didn’t deliver,
    and thereby angering and upsetting a lot of people, is a very very bad idea.

    Who is going to decide what Home Rule’ actually means anyway, it’s so vague and amorphous a concept that
    it means a thousand different things to a thousand different people. It’s a minefield awaiting unwary feet.

    It looks like by embracing the idea of Home Rule Scotlab wants to be still ‘attached’ but seperate and will end up
    being neither one thing nor the other and convincing no one.
    (if a possible definition of Home Rule is Scotland having complete control over all fiscal, financial and political
    matters, people might say – ‘what’s the point, just go indy’ – and anything less than complete control over all
    matters might likely be viewed as not actually Home Rule at all…)

    Scotlab will have to bite the bullet – completely dissasociate from London Lab, develop a Scotland focussed
    Scottish Labour party and get behind independence – sorry, it’s the only way or be prepared to be shouting
    from the sidelines for a decade at least.
    Pushing Home Rule (especially with it’s unfortunate history in the Ref) will not work.
    (but I have a feeling Scotlab will try it anyway…)

  4. As a 40+ years member of the Labour Party I have no intention of putting barriers of any kind between me and my trade union brothers and sisters and my political comrades in the rest of the UK. Unity and Solidarity is everything, Division is the wrong road for Socialists to take.

  5. David, if I understand you correctly, you seem to oppose DevoMax, but are in favour of ‘a settlement where Scotland raises all its own resources, and pays a block grant to the UK for common services’.

    Can you please explain the difference?

    1. Malcolm,
      You have got no chance of a reply from a Labour politician of David Martin’s stature. Its just too dangerous for them to get into discussion with us voters.

  6. Sorry, but you have failed to learn the lessons of this and previous elections. If you try to occupy a middle ground in the constitutional debate, you are only going to get caught in the cross fire. Unionists will accuse you of risking the integrity of the UK while Indies will accuse you of lacking ambition for Scotland.

    It’s time to pick a side. Either stand with the Tories and the Union or the SNP/Greens and independence. Labour already plumped for the former and suffered the electoral consequences. Logic now suggests they aspire to the latter.

    1. “Logic now suggests they aspire to the latter.”

      There’s that word logic again – if logic had been applied earlier Labour would not be where it is

  7. Out of interest, would you like to see the UK give up its independence to the EU to the same degree Scotland has to the UK?

    Also, what “barriers” to your political comrades would be put up by Scottish independence? Being governed from Holyrood instead of Westminster does not erect any physical barriers. The barriers, in my opinion, are in your mind and would evaporate with the reality of independence. For example, the Union of which I am a rep has branches in the Republic of Ireland, despite it having been independent of Westminster for the better part of a century. There are also pan-European, trans-national political alliances of like-minded parties by the boatload.

    More cynically, it is my experience that “division” is invariably the road “socialists” take. “The Peoples Front of Judea etc etc. There is more to “socialism” than the international brotherhood of the proletariat …. which most socialists talk about but which has never materialised due to the “I’m more socialist than you” internecine, downward spiral that invariably ensues when “socialist” groups get together.

    All in my opinion of course.

  8. This is a decent article. However, I’d say you’re betraying your own motivations with dismissing devomax. I’d suggest, it is, on the whole, where Scots want to start.

  9. It’s real Home Rule by GE 2020 at the latest or irrelevance.
    And don’t bet the Cons won’t get there first.

  10. It would be suicidal for us to start campaigning for Devo Max, or whatever you might call it.

    The SNP would counter by saying that we already *have* Devo Max, because we promised to deliver it after the Referendum – and that must be right because Gordon Brown promised it. If we’re now saying it wasn’t delivered as promised, why should Labour be trusted on it now?

    That’s a can of worms better not opened. We know, or should know, that the Scottish electorate has a long memory and carries a grudge so shutting up and keeping our heids down is probably the best strategy for the foreseeable future.

    I doubt even that will work though.

  11. Well, speaking as a Scottish Labour member and activist very clearly and unequivocally in the Unionist camp my own view is that the Scotland Act which comes fully into effect in 2017 will meet the expectations and aspirations of most of us – the 2 million who voted No that is.

    Let’s be clear about it, Scottish Labour allowed candidates to stand who support independence and when Kezia dithered over the possibilities of Brexit Davidson rushed the gates – and her reward was thousands of votes that could have belonged to Scottish Labour if we had been very clear from the outset where Scottish Labour stood.

    The journalist David Torrance has very recently got himself into a lot of hot water talking of the “Ulsterisation” of Scottish politics and whilst I do not think that the comparison is entirely valid he does have a good point – people need to know where they stand with Scottish Labour on this issue once and for all.

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