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.