Seven questions Scottish Labour can’t answer on their flawed Federalism vow

The Sunday Herald today reports that Labour is poised to unveil plans for “radical federalism” as an alternative to Scottish independence.   I anticipated this move and last week informed the Herald of just how flawed Labour’s Federal flirtation is, so The Sunday Herald article also carried my comments and mentioned my open letter  to Richard Leonard MSP, the leader of the Scottish branch of Labour.

Here is the letter and the seven key questions Scottish Labour must answer or be considered completely dishonest on the constitution by the Scottish electorate.

Dear Richard,

First let me congratulate you on backing the Brexit Continuity Bill, standing up for democracy and agreeing with the Greens, SNP and Liberal Democrats that the Scottish Parliament cannot be stripped of its powers without it’s consent.

Recently however, you have been pressing the idea of the Labour Party in the UK progressing plans for a Federal Britain as a radical alternative to independence. I would like to point out some flaws in the Federal idea and ask you to confirm what you actually mean by Federalism.

A key flaw of Federalism as an alternative to Independence, is that Scotland can’t become federal, unless England, Northern Ireland, Wales and possibly regions within England itself all become Federal states at the same time.

It is universally accepted that Scotland can vote to become an independent nation following an independence supporting majority in the Scottish Parliament, as we had first in 2014 and again in this session.  However, the conclusions of a House of Lords report on the constitution – “that while independence is a matter for the people of Scotland, Federalism would have to win a UK-wide referendum” – is also universally accepted.

Scotland simply does not have the power to vote for Federalism and therefore force that system on the rest of the UK. There is also simply not enough support for Federalism in England, where most voters live, and in Northern Ireland the DUP would feel it would diminish their status as British.

I understand that Scottish Labour is caught between the SNP and the Tories and wants to map out its  own constitutional position and that’s why you have chosen the middle ground with Federalism.  You are suggesting that UK Labour should have to go into the next UK General Election promising a referendum on a policy that is a dead-cert to be a vote loser in England.

Assuming you do believe that UK Labour will run on federalism and not back off / water it down when it comes to writing the next General Election manifesto, and would win said General Election.  As a Scottish Party Leader you owe it to the Scottish people to actually say what you mean by Federalism, and what powers you believe Scotland needs. Therefore, I think Scottish voters would appreciate the answers to the following questions:

  • Given the need for the Brexit Continuity Bill, which you supported. How can Federal level powers be given to regional governments in the face of post-Brexit international trade deals? Federalism, much like devolution, is entirely incompatible with Brexit. Hence why the UK Government is trying to grab powers from the regions for seven years.
  • In supporting a major change to the constitutional arrangements of not only Scotland but the UK are you now suggesting that Westminster governance is no longer fit for purpose?
  • Can you please define exactly which powers you believe would come to Scotland as a result of Federalism, over and above those the Scottish Parliament has now, and would any powers be repatriated to Westminster as a result of your Federalism idea?
  • Why do you now feel that all the powers that Unionist parties have been arguing against Scotland possessing would now somehow be better under Scottish control?
  • If you believe that the current devolution settlement doesn’t go far enough, do you now accept that the Scottish Labour Party’s submission to the Smith Commission, which suggested even fewer powers than the Conservative Party did, was a grave error?
  • Are you now going to make the economic case that there would be more, better paid, better quality jobs and a stronger economy if Scotland and not Westminster had almost all the powers of of a sovereign nation under its control?
  • Specifically, would Defence, Welfare and International Relations be retained at Westminster and would Federalism involve full fiscal autonomy for Scotland?

I understand that you want your UK parent party to set up a commission to look into Federalism. However, as you are openly suggesting Federalism as a constitutional alternative to independence, it is the least you can do to set out some basic parameters for the powers it would entail (in your opinion) and how it will come about, or the voters of Scotland will think you are just playing politics and not seriously considering Scotland’s constitutional future.

Yours for Scotland
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp
Chief Executive of Business for Scotland


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About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.


  • Federalism assumes a consistent legal system across all federal regions, which, because Scots Law is distinct, per definition cannot apply. Only confederalism would fit the Scottish / English case, yet that is not under discussion, and would be difficult to achieve without initially giving Scotland independence and then allowing Scots to decide if there were any areas in which they wished to pool sovereignty again with England subsequently. A non-starter I’d aver. The problematic nature of federalism which doesn’t fit the British union should be given more prominence as a stumbling block.

    • Indeed to create a Federal State you have to agree a constitution and that constitution and federal law serve as the “supreme Law of the Land” and would therefor the UK Supreme court and federal law would prevail over all state laws. That means that when federal and state law conflict, federal law prevails and Scotlands national law would be subservient to UK Federal law. In a stroke changing the legal system of Scotland and getting rid of the Scottish Legal system as the law of the land.

      There is an other problem – if the UK were to write a constitution would a Labour Government write into the constitution the powers of the Queen or of the House of Lords? In one foul swoop UK Labour would make the next UK General Election about whether or not we get rid of the Queen and the House of Lords, and every branch of the state and the establishment and the Royalty loving media would be against them.

      Labour would be painted as a load of Commie revolutionaries. Don’t get me wrong I could do without both the Royal family and the House of Lords but Labour are touting Federalism as its an alternative to independence and they are not intelligent enough to even know what it means.

      If they then water it down and come up with a vote for Devo Max but called federalism they will be pilloried for not being radical enough by the left and the right will say it’s an attack on British values.

      It will be like the proportional representation referendum again – a system that no one on any side actually wants and that wouldn’t really help anyone if you introduced it.

  • Many thanks for your enlightenment Gordon. I am much more aware of what federalism means.

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