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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Scottish Labour and constitutional debate

I am at the Scottish Labour Party conference in Inverness. I was speaking today in the constitutional debate. While UNISON and most of the trade union movement have not as yet taken a position on the referendum, we are participating in the debate and want to see credible arguments being presented to our members.

While I appreciate that a referendum campaign has to have formal YES and NO campaigns, most of us in the Labour Movement have a huge difficulty with any campaign that includes the Tories. That's because we don't share a common vision of the sort of Scotland we want to live in.

So far the Better Together campaign has had it fairly easy. The YES campaign's pitch in several policy areas is less than credible. Just two that I have highlighted in Red Paper publications are currency and energy. In both areas the SNP want to remain within a UK framework. That is a perfectly understandable position, but it begs the question what it is point of independence. If you hand over monetary and fiscal policy, or energy policy, to another country, how can you deliver a different approach that reflects specific Scottish requirements. Its like Panama to the US. A strange role model for an independent Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon spins an attractive vision of a socially just Scotland. But it simply doesn't match with their Laffer Curve tax policies and the cut in Corporation Tax in particular. We should be shutting down the tax havens and the corporate tax dodgers that use them. There is nothing socially just about Scotland the tax haven.

I would also say to those unnamed MPs spitting their dummies out this week - get over it and engage with the party consultation. Devolution was delivered by Labour and as Donald Dewar said its a process not an event. You have an important role in representing Scotland at UK level, but subsidiarity means that further powers will be devolved. And I would say to MSPs that devolution doesn't stop at Holyrood. Subsidiarity means devolution of Holyrood powers to local democratic control.

The publication of the interim report of the Devolution Commission is a basis for consultation. It doesn't have everything in it that I would wish. It is stronger on fiscal devolution. This is important not because of any perceived 'moral hazard' of spending and not raising revenue - but because under current system we suffer the financial consequences of public service change in England. The paper is much weaker on non-fiscal powers. We need to tidy up the policy levers devolved to Scotland to take comprehensive action on key issues. UNISON Scotland's, 'Fairer Scotland: Devolution' covers this in more detail.

I recognise this paper is the start of Scottish Labour's process, not the end. Scottish Labour conference agreed the statement establishing the Commission last year and it is right that conference should take a position on this issue before the referendum.

Now some argue that Labour doesn't need to consider further devolution to win the referendum. That is a mistake. It's a tactical mistake because just being against independence is not enough. Scottish Labour has to develop a positive vision of the sort of Scotland we want to live in. This is the strength of contributions to the debate from the Red Paper, STUC Just Scotland and UNISON's Fairer Scotland papers.

But it's also wrong in principle. Scottish Labour is the party of devolution should not abandon that territory to others.

While mechanisms have to be addressed, the most important issue for Labour, on which the paper is weak, is the purpose of devolution. Scottish Labour must engage in the battle of ideas. The YES campaign's strongest arguments for independence relate to the weaknesses of past Labour governments in areas like Trident renewal, inequality and workers rights. Just rubbishing the SNP is not nearly enough.

Let us never forget that constitutional change is only a means to an end. Labour needs to set out a positive vision, for Scotland and the UK, that resonates with working people. One that demonstrates how a fairer and more equal society can be achieved.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely. I feel that Housing Benefit and Council Tax should be devolved - afterall Holyrood has control over Housing and Local Government