David Martin: Radical home rule the answer to Labour's woes

THE party is in tune with views of the majority of Scots, says David Martin, but failed to articulate its position properly

Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 10:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 10th May 2016, 11:47 am
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire

DESPITE Labour’s desire to move on from the debate on the constitution you did not have to speak to many voters, during the recent election campaign, to discover they were not ready to move with us. The politics of identity trumped the politics of delivery. For many of Labour’s erstwhile supporters promises on schools, hospitals and housing were overshadowed by their lack of trust on the constitution. Silence on this issue did nothing to reassure.

It felt as though we had nothing to say on this issue. When in fact, if properly articulated, Labour’s position on the constitution is where the majority of the Scottish people are. They do not want unbridled Unionism or Nationalism. They want for Scotland: “maximum power with maximum security”. Labour the Party of Home Rule should have no difficulty in promising such an outcome. John Smith rightly described devolution as the “settled will of the Scottish people” but for too long we took for granted that we had the right form of devolution. In recent years through the Calman Commission, the Brown devo-max, the Smith Commission we have moved but always it appears chasing events not leading.

Labour, in the coming months, needs to sit down quietly and efficiently and work out what powers we need in Scotland to deliver economic growth and prosperity. Not devo-max, which struck me as gathering as many powers as one could think of then throwing them into the pot.

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We need a careful examination of our policy objectives and the powers we have to deliver them. Then we should frame our Home Rule demands in the context of what we want to deliver for the people of Scotland.

Despite Thomas Docherty’s very unhelpful remarks (the ex-Labour MP described the election campaign as “self-immolation for dummies”), the 2016 manifesto would be a good starting point. The form of taxation powers given to Scotland gives Scottish politicians a very clear dilemma. Does raising tax to improve public services cost jobs by making you the highest tax area of the UK? Would a settlement where Scotland raises all its own resources and pays a block grant to the UK for common services be better? An old argument but one we must return to.

Labour has complained that in this election people were not listening. More accurately I would say we were not listening to them. I understood the strategy of trying to move on from the referendum but if you are not discussing the dominant issue of the day you should not be surprised that your wider message no matter how positive is not being listened to. For many who voted Conservative the unequivocal attachment to the Union was an important security blanket, for Nationalists the only long-Term security comes from a party “standing up for Scotland”.

Labour used to offer both and can do again. Radical home rule anchored inside the UK offers Scots the ability to shape their own nation without turning their backs on their neighbours and the security that brings.

Labour set itself a false choice in 2016. We thought that concentrating on radical policies for delivery meant leaving the constitutional argument behind when in fact fusing the two could have got us a better hearing and a better result.

• David Martin is a Labour MEP