Gary Elliot: Federalism? A lie and a con in 2014 and a lie and a con now

CommonSpace columnist Gary Elliot says Scotland has already had a 'people's constitutional convention', but Labour refused to play ball

WHAT do you call a nationwide engagement on the constitutional future of Scotland that included public meetings, large scale engagement and elicited over 14,000 responses from individual members of the public and over 250 submissions from a variety of groups and organisations broadly representing what is termed 'civic Scotland'? To me, it would be perfectly valid to call it a 'people’s constitutional convention'.

But, in case you missed it, this event has already happened and it was called the Smith Commission, so given that we’ve already had the equivalent of a people's constitutional convention, why on earth is Kezia Dugdale proposing another one?

If you are on the pro-independence side of the debate, the answer is clear – firstly because of the need for a handy constitutional diversion from independence, and secondly because of Labour’s absolute, total and utter failure to agree on a sufficient scale of additional devolution of powers to Holyrood. Let’s not forget what Scottish Greens co-convener Maggie Chapman said of Labour during the Smith Commission: "The behaviour of some of the other parties in the process - it didn't shock me, but the level of collaboration, especially between the Conservatives and Labour, around retaining power at Westminster, it was quite surprising."

Read more – Federalism: A fix for Scotland and the UK in crisis, or something more?

It isn’t just Labour’s failure during the Smith Commission that we should be aware of but the overall disappointment of the process itself. The submissions received from the public seemed to have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the final agreed settlement. 

The responses of 14,000 members of the general public were broadly sidelined as five political parties negotiated with each other to try and achieve an agreed outcome.

Kezia Dugdale may want another 'people’s constitutional convention' but all the evidence from the Smith Commission is that even if this did happen, the people would not be listened to.

It’s also worth highlighting - again - that even where there seemed to be consensus in the institutional responses, this was ignored. Among those 250 responses from civic Scotland, there was expressed a clear rationale that substantial welfare and employment law powers should be transferred to Holyrood if a meaningful difference to the lives of people in Scotland was to be made. Gallingly, Labour in Scotland listened to the TUC and ignored the STUC.

All the evidence from the Smith Commission is that the input from both the general public and institutional stakeholders in Scotland was ignored and the likelihood is that this would repeat itself again.

Kezia Dugdale may want another 'people’s constitutional convention' but all the evidence from the Smith Commission is that even if this did happen, the people would not be listened to.

It’s worth bearing in mind of course that Kezia’s people’s constitutional convention is for people across the whole of the UK as a means of moving towards federalism.

It’s a fairly common piece of homespun wisdom that if you want to do well in life – whether as an individual, a company, a political party or whatever type of organisation you want to name – one of the things you need to do is learn from your mistakes. Don’t repeat them. Do better next time.

What is often lost is that the other side of the coin is just as important. If you want to do well you have to be able to recognise the factors that contributed to you achieving something positive - the decisions, strategy and tactics that led you to that point of success. In doing this you can replicate that achievement when next required.

What Kezia’s federalism plan does is to spectacularly fail to recognise some of the key factors that contributed to Labour’s success in establishing Holyrood in the first place.

It has to be remembered that Labour’s devolution plans in their 1997 manifesto did not just include Scotland and Wales but the English regions as well.

Read more – Kezia Dugdale pitches "new federal UK" to deal with UK constitutional crises

Scotland was prioritised, however – no doubt because the pro-devolutionists in Labour at that time, such as Donald Dewar, realised that they couldn’t afford not to deliver after the failed 1979 referendum, the resulting 18 years of Thatcher/Major Tory government and the devastating effect it had on Scotland.

So, although it was planned as a pan-UK project in Labour’s manifesto, Scotland was prioritised and came first. Holyrood was delivered. Scotland got its parliament back.

As far as the English regions were concerned, the entire process was a flop and a failure. The only referendum that took place was in 2004 in the north-east and it returned a whopping 77.9 per cent rejection.

Can you imagine where we would be had Scotland’s devolution proposals been tied to the devolution process in the rest of the UK? We’d probably still be arguing the case today (or arguably the frustration may have led to independence by now but that’s maybe a discussion for somewhere else...).

And yet Kezia Dugdale’s proposals tie Scotland’s constitutional question to that of English regions that have consistently shown that they have no real interest in minor devolution never mind outright federalism.

Kezia Dugdale’s proposals tie Scotland’s constitutional question to that of English regions that have consistently shown that they have no real interest in minor devolution never mind outright federalism.

Labour’s continued downward slide in poll ratings show that Kezia can’t learn from Labour’s failures. Her federalism proposals show that she can’t even recognise the aspects of Labour’s previous successes she should be taking account of, either.

As most people have twigged, though, the entire idea is basically meaningless as the chances of Labour being in a position to implement it are virtually nil. Labour has no chance of winning the next UK General Election, nor probably the one after that.

That doesn’t mean that it won’t try and push it during indyref 2, though, and you can just imagine Gordon Brown – powerless the last time and even more emasculated now – being wheeled out to yet again try and convince us that we’ll get federalism. 

This time. Honest. No, we really mean it this time. Pinkie promise.

I know that within the Yes camp we’re aware of this. We’re wise to it, but it can’t be stressed enough how much we have to nail these proposals as the nonsense they are.

Federalism? A lie and a con in 2014. A lie and a con now.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Labour

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Bert Logan's picture

Bert Logan

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 12:36

I was present at this event in London's UCL. 60 odd people, students and academics with a couple of Labour plants for questions. The chair of the panel was good, no SNP present for example, but he let me speak to some extent.

The panel: Kezia (Labour), Baroness (LibDem - Wales/NI), BetterTogether Charmain.

Missing: SNP or Tory!

My main point was this was 'Vow Mk2' - with 1 month to implement before Scotland is formally dragged out of the EU. On the back of that, any federalism would be overwhelmed by England's desires. No real change whatsoever. Of course the real problem - Tory takeup of this inside a month - think EVEL?

To say the least, this was so pathetic a 'debate' - a 'presentation of ideas' - the stupidity of their points was self defeating.

Another former Labour audience member noted how they hads let him down on independence and the EU. Another 'never again' nationalist - like me.

In all - it was a non-event - craving something that should have been proposed 20 years ago - but the English Rose Emblem of Labour is tainted by doing nothing to the House of Lords. This is an empty promise of nothing but dust.


Sat, 02/18/2017 - 12:51

Federalism in 2014 might have been an option as an interim compromise. That boat, however, has well and truly sailed. Everything that has happened since 2014 demonstrates this. The UK is broken and Scottish Labour need to catch up with this reality.

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