Labour must lead the charge for sharing power
In advance of Saturday’s Labour Hame federalism debate, Kezia Dugdale MSP says it’s time for Labour to fulfil our promise of a People’s Constitutional Convention to help share power more fairly across the UK.
Just over one year ago, I travelled to Cardiff for a meeting with Gordon Brown, John Prescott, First Minister Carwyn Jones, and Shadow Cabinet spokesperson Jon Trickett to discuss Labour’s support for a more federal union.
The meeting was the culmination of months of work in the party, including a historic vote at Scottish Labour’s conference in February in support of federalism.
Our message was clear: moving political power from Whitehall wasn’t just a constitutional convenience, but an economic necessity.
A few days after the Cardiff meeting, I was preparing to launch Scottish Labour’s council election campaign in Edinburgh when Theresa May stepped out of Downing Street and announced she was going to the country.
Not surprisingly, the federalism taskforce took a back seat as our party came together to increase the number of Labour MPs from Scotland in the hope of sending Jeremy Corbyn to Number Ten.
But our manifesto – For the Many, Not the Few – was unambiguous:
“A Labour government will establish a Constitutional Convention to examine and advise on reforming of the way Britain works at a fundamental level.”
“The Convention will look at extending democracy locally, regionally and nationally, considering the option of a more federalised country.”
We lost the general election, and we remain in opposition. But that is no excuse for shelving our plans for a People’s Constitutional Convention.
We know that the Labour Party is a broad church – it’s one of our greatest strengths. Yet what unites those of us who may disagree on some things is the desperate need for reform in our country.
Not tearing the UK apart as the SNP would do, nor grabbing powers for Westminster as the Tories are doing. It is not our union of nations which is intrinsically unjust or unfair, nor the European Union; it’s the actions of the powerful within it.
Economic power has to be devolved to our communities and that means more political control in every nation of the UK. Power hoarded in Westminster and Whitehall – or even Holyrood – is no longer tenable.
We are proud of our radical roots in Labour, and today we tell the public we are more radical we have been for years. Yet we are failing to make the argument that Labour’s founders of devolution once made about how to use powers to change the lives of people across our country.
Every single part of the UK need access to economic levers to deliver local growth if we stand a chance of building a strong economy and raising living standards.
One of the main criticisms of federalism is that it’s a word which means little to the ordinary voter. I get that. Of course it will never resonate on the doorsteps in the way our NHS does.
But how many voters listed ‘devolution’ as their principle political policy in the 1980s or 1990s? That didn’t stop Labour delivering the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly and few would suggest we ever go back to the way things were.
I also accept that how to define federalism is another conundrum for those of us who want power to be distributed more evenly. As leader, I said our devolved parliaments and assemblies should have more power over guaranteeing our employment rights and protection, and I believe the time has come for more regional and national control of our immigration system.
As for England, it is not Scottish Labour’s place to suggest what is best for the regions. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why we proposed a People’s Constitutional Convention, as this is something that must carry the support of the people, not just the politicians.
But it won’t happen without political leadership. And, as always, that will fall to the Labour Party.
It’s time to dust off our party’s plans for a People’s Constitutional Convention. I’m delighted that Mark Lazarowicz, Ian Murray and others are leading a fresh charge for this at this weekend’s Labour Hame event. I know Richard Leonard, who played a key role in the delivery of the Scottish Parliament, stands with us.
It is only the Labour Party which can restore trust between governments and the governed, and ultimately deliver a new federal settlement that brings political and economic power closer to the people we represent.
You can still reserve your place at Saturday’s event in Edinburgh by visiting Federalism and more – a Scottish Labour debate. Make sure you join the debate.