Thoughts on Scottish Labour’s autonomy
Jamie Glackin says it’s sensible to devolve control over selections and CLPs to the Scottish Party, but creating an independent Scottish Labour Party is the wrong answer, and the path we should be on instead is the one towards federalism.
I was in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, and was fortunate enough to get a ticket for First Minister’s Questions. For anyone who hasn’t been, the atmosphere is totally different to what you see on the telly. It’s much quieter, not nearly as raucous as the cameras would have you believe. Perhaps this is why some of the pensioners’ bus tour in the public gallery left half-way through – too sedate for them.
Or maybe it was just that many of our politicians are exhausted and are coasting to the recess with bags, sunscreen and a John Grisham already packed. Despite Nicola and Kezia still being very much at the top of their games, the same cannot be said for all of their parliamentary colleagues.
The Tories, it seems to me, are another matter. They are clearly relishing being the number two party in Scotland, which seems odd to me because we hated it. Their people are bursting with energy and seem genuinely unfazed by the division engulfing their colleagues south of the border. Perhaps they’re just ignoring it.
During the FMQs exchanges I was struck that, while the Tories have their best time in years, and Nicola is queen of all she surveys, the pressing matter for Scottish Labour members, EU Referendum aside, is the autonomy of the Scottish Party.
Now let’s be clear on this. What we do here will have zero impact on our fortunes in the short-term. It seems to me that the party is firmly behind Kezia Dugdale and that she has reached an understanding of the political reality in Scotland with Jeremy Corbyn. But we are the Labour Party, and we love nothing more than the Byzantine nature of the rule book. So this new political reality does have to be supported by some rule changes.
I believe that any move towards an independent Scottish Labour party is precisely what Nationalists want. And they don’t say this for the good of the Labour Party. It’s a clear strategy that, regrettably, some of our members bought into for a while. Thankfully, that now seems to have died a death.
The solution seems straightforward to me. We need to devolve responsibility for all candidate selections to the Scottish Party, whilst following the same principles as the UK Party rulebook, ensuring that commitments to gender equality are followed. Likewise, management of CLPs should be fully devolved. We share our principles across the UK Labour family, but different people can administer them.
And when it comes to manifestos, is it too much to ask that the Scottish Policy Forum and the National Policy Forum speak to each other and agree compromises where there are differences? I don’t think it should be.
And yes, if we start down this road then it makes sense to keep going. I hope to see further moves towards the federalisation of the UK Labour Party, because that will fundamentally improve the interface between membership, leadership and the policy making process.
But that is quite a big piece of work for another day. Remember – we’re all knackered!