An archive of the live blog of the Labour Hame debate on federalism which took place on Saturday 12 May 2018.



Anne now wrapping up and thanking the panel and the participants. A great debate! Thanks all.


Ian echoes Henry’s question – are we arguing for this because we are pissed off with the Tories, or because we have a governance problem.

Politics is running out of ideas, and there is a shrinkage in our capacity to embrace new ones.

The vast majority of the public now know more about the EU than they ever did when they voted to leave it. Is this how constitutional change must work?

Ian argues you have to trade off equality versus fiscal reality.


Mark addresses the question of social security and acknowledges that federalism does mean different choices and different outcomes, so we need to establish a common floor across the federation, but also simply accept that places will make different choices. It’s a longer debate, so let’s move now.


Henry focuses on the sovereignty of the people, which requires a written constitution. Perhaps we don’t call it federalism, just call it finding our way forward, rebuilding links, endorsing solidarity amongst peoples. Labour is in a good position to engage on these issues, and translate them into action. It must take up the challenge and be the party of ideas for the citizen.


A wee diversion into Brexit from Catherine there! Brought back into line by Anne. Equality is fundamental to what we want to achieve from federalism.


Final wrap-up from the panel. Catherine addresses a final point made about Brexit and our failure to sell the most successful peace process the world has ever known – we Europeanised failure, and nationalised success. We must avoid doing that in the future, and with regard to federalism. Are we capable of doing that?


Final contribution from the floor – if a federalism solution is to come in it must be grounded with the people not the political parties. Could a citizen driven movement towards a federal system try to heal the divisions from 2014 and 2016 referendums?


Next speaker was formerly a very keen pro-independence campaigner. He now finds himself in the unusual position of being unsure. Federalism could be an answer but maybe not. Could be the answer to the quandary he as a former independence supporter who also wants leftwing values finds himself in.


Next contributor says federalism needs to focus on equality, and devolution could be argued to have gone too far because we now have different social security in Scotland which is increasing inequality, making some benefits and top-ups only available to some and not others. Solidarity is breaking down and will break down further.


Last few contributions from the floor. Next speaker points out the obvious problem with an uneven population spread across a federal state made up of E,W,S,NI. He argues we need regional federalism in England. Also referencing the role of local / city governments and how we square that. Final question about the number of MPs and Lords under a federal system, and where a senate might sit instead of Westminster – somewhere more central.


Next commenter says he arrived as a fan of federalism and will leave as one, but is now more not less confused. Not enough focus on the fiscal realities and how redistribution can be preserved, and how different can federal entities be within the UK. Suggests that a way forward to do this in stages, with the first step being an English parliament. EVEL was a travesty and didn’t solve the issue. Perhaps the first step is for Labour to get behind the notion of an English parliament.


Next contributor says federalism can only be delivered by a constitutional convention and a referendum, and argues that such a referendum will never pass for a range of reasons. Speaker says a federal referendum would likely include a bar on secession, and that he, as a strong anti-nationalist, would not vote for it. We’re now discussing the US civil war…


Next contribution from the floor talking about German federation and how well it has been adopted and how effectively it works in modern times. The speaker is a contributor to the Red Paper on Scotland from 1975, and points out it pushed not just devolution but the left empowering people and enhancing popular sovereignty, at an economic and industrial level as well as a political one. We need to talk again about empowerment.


If anybody has “We need a written constitution” on their bingo card, mark it off now. Contribution from the floor asks what the chances are of Labour backing that call. Anne notes that Blair’s logic for the 1997 devolution bill was that a referendum was put there in order to give the sort of solidity that placing devolution into a written constitution would otherwise have given. Interesting that it hasn’t worked.


Anne asks if we are squeamish about talking about citizenship and belonging?


Anne asks each member of the panel to answer the question “What is federalism for”. A broad consensus that it is about bringing politics closer to communities, producing better law, reversing the push towards centralism and populism. Progressives have been complacent, says Henry McLeish. “Am I just really pissed off with the Tories, or is there a problem with the governance of the UK?” That’s sometimes a tricky question.


Excellent question from the floor: what do we think federalism is for? We stand as Labour for redistribution from rich to poor. Does federalism help or hinder that? Would people in a federal system where such transfers would be very obvious be happy for this to continue?


Craig Dalzell from Common Weal speaks from the floor pointing out the unique issue of Scots law within the UK, and questions how that is dealt with in the mix. The panel discusses the parallel with the US.


Another contribution says people are not tired of democracy, but we want more votes that matter. Look at that before other things.

Also challenges the suggestion that Scotland and N England are the same. Anne comes back on that!


Next contribution from the floor. We look back at devolution and wonder if we have lost more than we have gained. The future of the world is cities, and we missed the opportunity to regionalise on that basis in Scotland and the UK. Should city regions be our focus, not a federation of nations.

The north of England and Scotland are pretty much the same place in terms of challenges and opportunities. Why drive a wedge between them? More collaboration, more ambassadors between city regions.


Henry McLeish picks up on the US federal comments and seeing how we could emulate the democratising/equalising aspect of the equal share of senators.

He says Labour can inject a bit of radicalism into the current politics of inevitability.

He notes that the SNP’s insecurity is driving their centralising agenda, but questions whether the public cares.


Ian Murray throws in a challenging note – do we have too much democracy as far as the public is concerned? Is there any appetite for yet more voting, or do people just want the people they have already elected to get on with it?

On the topic of a partnership of equals, Ian points out that in a federal setup London could argue to hold on to all the revenues it generates, which would result in major damage to the rest of the UK. We need to look at unintended consequences!


Mark agrees that there is no country in the world that has a perfect constitutional setup, but he feels the UK is very much at the worst end of the spectrum! He agrees we can’t wait for a perfect settlement, but we have to move forward. Mark cites the Claim of Right again, and argues everything should be devolved in case there is a reason to retain it.


Panel now responding to some of those points, with Catherine picking up the notion of a partnership of equals. If such a partnership is going to work, strong inter-parliamentary approaches are necessary to keep the country together. Catherine also points out historical federal states may not give us a blueprint – our solution must be British.


Next contributor says we could characterise the UK’s devolution status as “partly pregnant”! But perhaps as others have said we don’t have to have clean lines on everything, but we do need a partnership approach to working together around the challenges we face. A move away from the binary arguments of independence versus union, and a move towards collaboration.

Glad that speakers addressed history – this isn’t about now or a one-shot, but it’s a long game, moving towards something better.


Most countries, says another contributor from the floor, have messy constitutions, and we shouldn’t feel that the UK or Scotland is uniquely messy. And here’s the first mention of English regionalism. We need to remember poor people live in Surrey, and rich people live in West Dumbartonshire, and when we talk about regionalism we need to ensure that reality is part of it.

The consequence of devolution/federalism is that differences arise – see cancer drugs, etc. This needs embraced.


First point comes from a rural/island perspective, noting that government is currently very centralising, the opposite of localism and the opposite of federalism. Huge infrastructure is needed if we are to deliver localism and reverse the current path. Think about the money.


And that concludes the panel contributions, we now move to audience participation!


Catherine wonders whether there are lessons we can learn from Macron in France, and the harnessing of populism.


Catherine notes the loss of trust in politicians and the political process, and argues that a solution to our current problems must address that failure. How does federalism or power sharing help that?


Catherine asks what is in it for Scotland. Are we arguing to unstitch the redistribution that we have defended so robustly? We must have answers to these and other serious questions.


Catherine Stihler echoes Henry McLeish that Labour needs to again become the home of bold ideas, but that federalism cannot be a Labour campaign, nor can it be a Scottish campaign.


Catherine is sceptical of the case for federalism, arguing that our political offerings since 2011 have been little more than an auction of powers, and none of our offers, from further devolution to a new constitution, have won the public’s backing.


Catherine Stihler trumps Henry’s reference to 1707 and goes back to 1603 and the Union of Crowns, pointing out the rhetoric at the time was all about sharing not devolving.



Anne now introduces Catherine Stihler MEP.


Anne echoes Henry’s recollection of the 1997 devolution bill in which both were heavily involved.


Henry argues that the lack of a federal solution has become stark under Brexit, as we see that powers are devolved, but not equitably shared.


Henry McLeish quotes Winston Churchill in Dundee in the 1930s saying that federalism may be the ultimate structure for the UK.


Henry touches on the same notion as Ian did, that in both Holyrood and Westminster power has been centralised continually into the Executive, and into the PM and FM, with even cabinets being sidelined. Labour’s pledge should be to reverse that.


Henry argues that Labour has been on the back foot for many years on constitutional change, doing little but opposing others’ proposals rather than arguing for our own. Some say people are weary of arguments on the constitution, but we cannot let Scotland remain stuck in the rut it is in.


Henry notes that in 1997 as he pushed through the devolution bill at Westminster there was little interest and much foot-dragging in the UK parliament on these issues of constitutional reform. He feels we need Labour needs to champion devolution, federalism and localism again.


Henry McLeish opens by paying tribute to John Smith, reminding us that he always considered devolution as “unfinished business”, and Donald Dewar, who championed these changes as a process not an event.




Anne now introduces Henry McLeish, who she reminds us was heavily involved in the process of devolution and the bill which brought the Scottish Parliament into being.


Mark argues that major constitutional changes should be subject to agreement across all the devolved governments. The Brexit horse has bolted, but it should apply to, for example, leaving the ECHR etc. We also need to develop a system better than 50% votes in referendums and the UK parliament.


Mark Lazarowicz says he wants to see Scotland move to become one of a partnership of equals in the UK, and cites the Claim Of Right as being the basis for this approach. He wants to see constitutional controls to prevent the UK government overriding national/regional parliaments.


Mark becomes the first person to use the dreaded phrase “Devo Max”, which he notes could mean just about anything.


Mark Lazarowicz opens by saying that he considers federalism to be the only feasible solution to the government of the UK, and has thought so since the 1980s at least! He argues that the best way to push this is to move to greater devolution for Scotland as a driver to persuade the rest of the UK to follow.


Mark Lazarowicz up next. Our thanks to Mark for being the driving force behind this event. Anne notes that Mark was on the executive of the Scottish Constitutional Convention.


The Labour Party is the party of devolution, and we have a policy agreed at conference to deliver a People’s Constitutional Convention but it’s disappointing that this has been ignored by the party since, says Ian Murray. We have to develop a policy that’s bold and radical, but also sustainable.


Ian Murray talks about how devolving power needs to be accompanied by the devolution of money – and notes that in Scottish local government localism has been utterly stymied by the failure to give any financial clout to the devolution of community powers.



Ian Murray MP speaks first, and says it’s incumbent upon us, in the time of populism, to give deep consideration to how politics works, to fight to reduce the concentration of power in the UK, and to understand what the United Kingdom looks like in a post-Brexit world.


Maybe now is the time, says Anne, to find federalism as the solution to the strange constitutional conundrum the UK currently finds itself in.


Anne McGuire opens the debate with a tribute to John Smith on the anniversary of his death, noting that fellow panelist Henry McLeish was the MP who informed her of his tragic death in 1994. She notes that this is her first public outing since stepping down as an MP in 2015.



Pre-debate conflab. Ian Murray just out of shot…


The Labour Hame “Federalism and more” debate will be getting underway in about an hour. We will be trying to live blog throughout! Tune in from 10am.