A devolved Scottish Parliament should have naturally led to a devolved Scottish Labour party. However for some reason the designers of devolution didn’t see it that way and I think this has been one of the contributing factors of their decline in Scotland.
But, let’s not worry about them being late to the party and celebrate the fact they’ve turned up. And, as I think it only polite, let’s celebrate the role former leader Johann Lamont played in this. Her outspoken resignation in October 2014 has contributed in no small part to where it is today – unsuccessful at the polls, yes. But showing signs of being able to adapt to the new political environment around them.
There’s been much written about how this is a bright new dawn for Scottish Labour (here and here for example) so I decided to look back at their 2011 manifesto and think about current debates and propose a few ideas that Scottish Labour should consider.
- Lift the Council Tax freeze – ok, so they don’t need to be autonomous to achieve this but the symbolism of breaking away from a SNP implemented policy is important. The impact on local authorities hasn’t been hugely negative in a financial sense but it has hampered their ability to react to their own specific challenges and the needs of their residents.
- Stay away from Trident as a specific policy – there’s just no need to get involved and Dugdale should allow her members free reign over what they say on the subject. Most importantly, it could be argued (and I’m sure the SNP would) that by taking a position on Trident Scottish Labour are beginning to develop their own defence policy for an independent Scotland. Secondly, by and large it doesn’t feature in the daily thoughts of normal voters.
- Further devolve the Crown Estate assets – build the country from the ground up, not the top down. Let the rural communities of the north benefit from the natural bounty they’ve been luck enough to inherit, let the cities with Crown Estate properties reinvest their monies in new, affordable housing. Most importantly, show people that you trust them.
- Welfare – I’m struggling for one of this to be honest, so answers on a postcard. However, what I would say is that developing a specific welfare proposal at a time when the powers aren’t fully devolved and there’s a UK-wide debate going on about welfare maybe isn’t wise. The SNP will have to as they’re going to form the next government. The wisest, but admittedly unambitious, approach may be to come up with a loose offering which can’t be tied down and focus on attacking the SNP’s policy.
I don’t claim these to be revolutionary, nor are the necessarily going to put them at great odds with the UK party. However, newly found independence doesn’t always need to be practiced in a radical manner.
In all likelihood, Kezia Dugdale will not be the leader who will be able to take full advantage of these changes in the Labour Party’s structure. As sad as it may seem her focus in the short term should be on building a solid foundation for engaging with the public in the four years following the election.
I’m not sure of the mood of Labour conference this weekend but if ever a party needed to walk away with some hope for the future, this is the party and now is the time for the leadership to give them that hope.