Proportional representation: Labour's constitutional reforms are welcome but there's one glaring omission – Alex Cole-Hamilton
While Charles Kennedy achieved the biggest haul of seats for the Liberal Democrats in a century, I was getting absolutely rinsed by the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, but it was an important learning curve.
Gordon may be an opponent, but I respect him. With so much heat and hate in our politics, it’s important to recognise and celebrate common ground where you find it and so I welcome his intervention this week on a reimagined and more democratic UK.
As liberals we have also fought for reform: from women’s reproductive rights and land reform to creating the Scottish Parliament. In that same spirit, for us, rejecting independence has never meant settling for the status quo.
The SNP seek friction with the UK Government on any matter they can find. But it's easier to get things done and weather the storms when you work together. We need new foolproof systems to make that happen. During the pandemic, we saw some of devolution’s benefits and joint decision-making through the four-nations approach. Our governments worked together. But it didn’t take long for the bickering to return. It is time to fix our politics.
Gordon Brown has also signalled his support for the abolition of the House of Lords, advocated by my party throughout our history. These parliamentarians have power over legislation, yet no democratic accountability. They also have incredible influence over government decision-making that could be subject to misuse. You need only look at correspondence that has recently surfaced around the awarding of lucrative pandemic contracts to understand the measure of that influence. Then take Lord Lebedev of Siberia who has barely set foot in the Lords since he took his oath. The security services issued warnings, but Boris ignored them and made him a Lord anyway.
The need to overhaul the outdated Lords is long overdue. We now need Keir Starmer to come off the fence and commit to that.
The issue on which Gordon Brown’s paper is sadly silent, however, is perhaps the change we need most urgently and that’s voting reform: making every vote count through proportional representation. It would put an end to safe seats and force MPs to listen to their constituents, making it more likely that you will get better schools, more support for the health service and a better environment. It’s disappointing the Labour leadership remains silent on this, even when their party’s membership and the wider country are crying out for it.
Scottish Liberal Democrats want to go further and help protect local authorities too through a power surge. It means giving them more powers over economic development, planning and transport and ending the SNP’s power grabs. We believe localised decision-making is fundamentally a good thing and we should trust our communities.
Scottish nationalists will tell you that the UK is irreparably broken, that independence is the only answer to that. However, it’s certainly clear now that change and reform are possible without the extreme upheaval and hardship of separation. The first step is to get the Conservatives out of government, but Labour will need to go further than that if we are truly to achieve that better Britain.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western