Labour Scotland and the Death of Devo

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With Carol Fox joining Women for Indy, and 27% of Labour voters already plan to #voteYes (32.5%, excluding undecideds) –– Labour meet in Perth today beleaguered and in disarray as their Devo Nano plans fall apart under the first, and cursory public scrutiny.

Just two years after announcing its “Devolution Commission” the plans are being widely rubbished.

Ben Thomson of the Devo Plus thinktank, described the #DevoMess as “just tinkering with the current system”, while commentator Gerry Hassan has written (‘The Strange Story of Scottish Labour’):

Fifteen years into devolution, Scottish Labour still show little sign of having developed a mission for the Parliament and its politics they played a huge part in bringing about. Until they do they will continue to find themselves pushed to the margins, speaking for a declining part of the country, while others shape and embrace Scotland’s future.

Here Andy Wightman takes apart the plans for devolution of the Crown Estates, arguing: “So the Scottish Labour Party agrees with the Scottish Affairs Committee’s recommendations (full devolution) and hopes that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government will implement them (despite it having made clear that it won’t).” The Financial Times has said that by trying to take account of “deep divisions among Labour members about how much power to transfer to Edinburgh, the package was far less bold than had been suggested by the party’s devolution commission in an interim report last year”.

These figures aren’t partisan tribalists, they are independent commentators. Their verdict is damning.

At it’s simplest the problem is that the plans would leave  leave 85% of welfare and 80% of tax powers in the hands of Westminster governments we didn’t elect. But the problem is deeper. The commission itself, its makeup its process and its announcement seems closeted and hide-bound. Scottish Labour operate like some sort of sect. Gordon Brown pops up with his variant BT campaign, like his own Praetorian Guard and the commission itself comprises only three MPs, three MSPs, one MEP, and one councillor.

There’s very little light and day – democracy some would call it – about the entire process. It’s a defensive posture. A retreat into comfortable language, even if it remains utterly unconvincing.

This was to be the jump-pad for Labour to regain some credibility and to entice the public by a clear benefit from voting No. They were going for some constitutional sabotage, muddy the waters with some alluring ideas for the wavering voter.

Instead it’s been a disaster with the 40% figure dissolving into the political ether within hours of it being announced. Commenting, Ben Thomson, Chairman of Reform Scotland and Devo Plus, said: “Labour’s proposals increase the Scottish Parliament’s tax-raising powers by less than 5%, and represent only 26% of Scottish Government expenditure, which falls well short of the 40% they are claiming.The report is clearly motivated more by short-term referendum politics than a real desire for significant further devolution.” See more here.

@zx_580@zy_325The problem from here is not Labour’s botched ‘Vote No get More’ pitch. The problem is their deep-level incoherence .  The problem is not the charisma and policy void of Ed Miliband, or the weird car-crash communicator that is Johann Lamont, nor is it even the Mad Dog antics of Ian Davidson or others. The problem is that they don’t know the answers to their own questions: “This is who we are.  This is what we believe. This is how we make Scotland better.”

None of this is clear. The truth is that nobody knows who they are, what they believe or that they have the feintest idea who to make things better.

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  1. Thom Cross says:

    We are being bombarded with the promise of additional powers by the No parties in an attempt to bribe the switherers into accepting some kind of so-called enhanced Devo-Max/Devo-Mess. What is the political basis of this promise?
    The ‘promise’ was recently articulated by Dr Gordon Brown (First Class Honours MA History Edinburgh 1972, PhD History Edinburgh 1982 ) failed economist and former-politician. He will be well aware of the progenitor of this policy of granting limited authority when faced with nationalist sentiments.
    Creech Jones the post-war Labour Government’s colonial secretary knew the arrangements well and implemented them. He said we can ‘ draw the constructive forces of nationalism to the British side through the granting of limited authority in order to minimize the threatened erosion of British power’.
    This was almost standard colonial-office strategy for self-government across the Empire and Dr Brown will be aware of the details. The joint London rule shared with nationals of the colony would offer devolved petit- Government authority (education, sanitation, health) and even in some cases taxation. But the three- power troika of finance, foreign policy and fundamental change remained with the Secretary for the Colonies or some other minor minister in London.
    Dr. Brown might also know his colonial -India history (his PhD was on Labour Party history 1918-1928) and might have discovered within the Government of India Act of 1919 the colonial system of “dynarchy”. This was a London devised term for what was described above as a dual legislative arrangement in which Westminster would grant permission for a limited degree of Indian political authority to be exercised with of course London’s approval.
    But Dr. Brown conjoined in policy by David Cameron and Johann Lamont is now offering the Scottish people this ancient constitutional duality of dynarchy: London will grant Edinburgh certain fiscal /taxation powers. What should we say? “Thanks you massah or thank you sahib”. We are` so grateful.” No we are not a colony but we do suffer from coloniality as a subordinate nation within the British state. Coloniality is a condition in which Scotland is offered limited political status under the control of British state authority from Westminster AND the power of Whitehall and its mandarins. It is best summed up in a remark of Lord Cromer a redoubtable voice of the Empire which we can adapt by changing the nation from Egypt to Scotland: ” We do not Govern Scotland, we only govern the governors of Scotland.”
    Surely the historian Gordon Brown must realize that this patronizing political negation of dignity is unworthy of a Scottish scholar never mind a national social-democrat even a leader of the British labour Party.
    London’s hegemony over Scotland’s future is an anachronism that is unsustainable. Being offered this semi-autonomous status thro Devo-Max must be rejected as it fails to understand the aspirations and the political vision of the people of Scotland at this time. A better Scotland: a new Scotland needs the legitimate optimism that comes with Independence: WE CAN: WE SHOULD: WE MUST>

    1. Alex Buchan says:

      This is too good for a comment. This should be taken out a made an article titled “Letter to Gordon” or some such, so that others can read it and comment.

    2. One of the best articles you have ever written.

    3. rabthecab says:

      I agree with Alex – this deserves being posted as an article in itself.

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