Too little, too late. That is how Scottish Labour’s attempt to transform itself, from mere “branch office” to being “fully autonomous within the UK Labour Party.” might best be described. In many ways, devolving greater control to Scottish Labour mirrors further devolution to Holyrood, in that it doesn’t go far enough, particularly in so far as it stops short of fiscal autonomy.
A fully autonomous Scottish Labour Party is all well and good, but it only matters if it makes the party more relevant to Scotland, better able to meet the needs of our nation as the inexorable divergence from the rest of the United Kingdom continues.
Control over policy making, crucially including reserved areas, may see the emergence of a distinctive voice for Scottish Labour, free from the limitations of having to project a unified front with their London paymasters. Responsibility for the selection of Westminster candidates, and the management of constituency Labour parties, could also dispel the perception held by many, that Scottish Labour, like the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Tories, is by and large an English political party.
Sadly, it is doubtful that under Kezia Dugdale’s leadership, that the voice that emerges will be one that Scotland will want to listen to. Ironically, Jeremy Corbyn’s politics are probably closer to the values of many Scots, than the vapid nonsense (too much SNP bad, not enough alternatives) offered up by Dugdale. Where Mr Corbyn is authentic, Ms Dugdale is patently a product of the career politician production line that Labour, since the days of Tony Blair, has increasingly relied upon.
An even bigger problem for Kezia Dugdale, is that whilst she tries very hard to be the polished article (that Tony Blair very much was, and in many ways remains), sadly, she really isn’t very good at it. Ms Dugdale is seriously hampered, by giving the unfortunate impression, that she is incapable of deviating from her script, or thinking on her feet. It doesn’t help that her delivery is woefully uninspiring, and her whining tone excruciatingly grating (there are professionals who can help with this, for goodness sake). It is as if she is relentlessly, unthinkingly flogging a dead horse.
Ironically, Kezia Dugdale complains that Jeremy Corbyn “speaks only to the converted”. Yet, she isn’t even doing that. Under her stewardship, Scottish Labour appears to lack conviction, direction and inspiration. If the main benefit of autonomy for Scottish Labour, is that it should be better placed to step out from under the shadow London Labour, which has yet to work out what it stands for since the demise of New Labour, then Ms Dugdale needs to accept that she is inextricably linked with the collapse of Scottish Labour, and step aside allowing the party to make a fresh start.
Whilst it seems, all too depressingly, that the only way Labour has any hope of winning a majority south of the border, is if they don’t stray, as Corbyn has done, too far from the new centre ground, which is somewhat to the right of where it was thirty years ago, it may be that Scottish Labour, in contrast, needs to move decisively to the left, if it is to have any hopes of a revival here in Scotland. An acknowledgement that the ‘vow’ wasn’t met by any stretch of the imagination, and a more imaginative approach to Scotland’s constitutional arrangements (a truly federal UK, perhaps?) wouldn’t go amiss either.
Saint Ruth, saviour of the Union, would have us believe that she operates in splendid isolation from the Tory Party south of the border. Sorry, but that patently is not the case. So, when Ruth Davidson talks about the “lead weight of separatism”, it really is rather rich coming from her. She might as well be referring to Brexit, for which her party is solely responsible. Similarly, if Ms Davidson believes that the SNP puts "its own narrow political interests before those of the wider country", she must recognise that her own party did just that, when David Cameron called the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
There are those, Ruth Davidson and David Mundell among them, who despite the political awakening that occurred in Scotland during the independence referendum, continue to think that everything is, or at least should be, as it was before. When Mr Mundell said "Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. The UK government is responsible for Scotland's membership of the EU and for foreign affairs so obviously the UK government is going to take the lead in the negotiations in relation to our position in the EU”, what he really meant was, that Scotland should sit quietly in the corner, and let England and the Tories do whatever they want. Just as they used to do.
Former Prime Minister, David Cameron may have talked about “this family of nations”, but he betrayed his true sentiments, and those of his party, when he tweeted “One nation, one United Kingdom - that is how I hope to govern if I am fortunate enough to continue as Prime Minister.”. The UK is not one nation, but four. Those who continue to deny this, are arguably a greater threat to the United Kingdom that they so dearly love, than any Scottish nationalist. His successor talks of an agreed UK position, yet Mr Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has made clear there will be no Scottish veto on the Brexit negotiations. It is difficult to see how the First Minister’s desire for the UK to remain within the single market, can be reconciled with the Brexiteer’s pathological hostility towards free movement. Something has to give.
When in 2014, Alex Salmond said of the independence referendum, "In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, this is a once in a generation opportunity for Scotland.", he was, as he said, stating his opinion. He was most certainly not, as many unionists claim, making a vow, in the way that the unholy trinity of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband did at the time. When Scotland voted to remain a part of the UK, the matter was indeed settled for a generation, that is until Brexit happened. Brexit changed everything, it is in every way, the “significant and material change” to which Nicola Sturgeon referred. I do not believe Angus Robertson was exaggerating in the slightest, when he said "The UK that Scotland voted to stay part of in 2014 no longer exists"
The First Minister is a canny operator, but then so is the new Prime Minister, she proved as much, when speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, she carefully avoided absolutely ruling out a second independence referendum. Nicola Sturgeon knows Brexit has gifted her with the tantalising possibility of an early, second independence referendum. She also knows, all too well, that such an enterprise hinges on getting the timing just right. Moreover, Ms Sturgeon needs to be seen to have exhausted all reasonable avenues of compromise, hence today’s talk of a “coalition” of those in favour of “soft Brexit”, to secure the “least-worst position”.
Given that we voted decisively to remain a member of the EU, the very least that Scots can expect, is a further referendum on whatever arrangements the UK manages to negotiate for Brexit. If Scotland rejects the terms of Brexit, that should constitute a veto and force the UK back to the negotiating table. If no veto is on offer, it is entirely logical that the option of independence be given as an alternative. Ruth Davidson and her fellow 'no voters' need to realise, it is the Tories and Brexit that have put independence back on the agenda. There was a gentleman on the radio the other morning, who when asked his thoughts on Nicola Sturgeon’s national survey could only say, “She’s already been telt naw”. I would say to him, of Brexit, Scotland also said “naw”.