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.
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
Chief Executive of Business for Scotland