Kezia Dugdale: More control for Scottish Labour
The Scottish Labour leader writes for Holyrood on the proposals for more autonomy for the party in Scotland
For more than a decade, there have been discussions within Scottish Labour about making our party more autonomous within the UK Labour family.
In 2011, my Westminster colleague Ann McKechin published an internal review that called for Scottish Labour to be granted greater autonomy and become more closely tied to the Scottish Parliament.
She said at the time: “In 1999, we devolved power in our country and set in place a Scottish parliament with massive power and massive potential. But we forgot to devolve our party. We have put off these changes for too long and there is no doubt they have contributed to a lack of effective and co-ordinated policymaking.”
These changes have been a long time coming.
My predecessors, Iain Gray, Johann Lamont and Jim Murphy, were also clear that they wanted more autonomy.
Last year, Jeremy Corbyn and I signed a joint statement, which set out our proposals. It was a historic step for the Scottish Labour Party.
We said: “We agree that Scottish Labour will become a more autonomous party.”
We added: “This will be a major change in the way we operate and will put beyond doubt the fact that decisions about Scottish Labour will be taken by Scottish Labour.”
Labour is a proud democratic socialist party, and this was followed by a consultation of our members and overwhelmingly, Scottish Labour members told me that more autonomy within the UK Labour Party was what they wanted.
Last week, I attended a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in London for the conclusion of this debate. I was delighted to secure the support of the NEC.
The proposals will now go forward to our national conference in Liverpool this week. I will be attending and will continue to make the argument for these changes there.
In summary, the proposals will mean:
-The Scottish Labour Party will be directly represented with voting rights on the NEC by a frontbench member of the Scottish Parliament, appointed by me.
-On policy, under new rules, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party will be part of the group that agrees the UK manifesto, providing a clear mechanism to resolve policy differences on reserved matters. The Scottish rule book will be amended to make clear that Scottish conference can make policy in all policy areas, not only devolved areas.
-Labour’s Scottish Executive Committee (SEC) will administer the procedures and selection of Westminster parliamentary candidates in Scotland and have full control to manage and administer selection of candidates for the Scottish Parliament and local government.
-The SEC will have greater control over constituency Labour Party management and the ability to make changes to how constituency parties in Scotland operate.
While this marks the culmination of a lengthy process involving MSPs, party members and affiliates, many of these issues have been under discussion for over a decade. I’m delighted that we are now in a position to deliver them and I know that they will make our party stronger.
I understand that for many voters this will appear like naval-gazing. But this is a vital step in making the Labour Party fit for the future.
It was the Labour Party that delivered devolution to Scotland and Wales – one of our proudest achievements. But we failed to devolve our own party at the same time.
Holyrood is on the verge of becoming one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. From April next year, we will have the power to make different tax choices to Westminster.
The in-tray for the SNP Government is overflowing – the attainment gap between the richest and the rest in our classrooms, an NHS in distress, unacceptable levels of child poverty, and 150,000 Scots trapped on housing waiting lists. That’s why I have been calling for a renewed focus on the day job from the SNP.
The desire for more autonomy in my party has not distracted me from holding the SNP to account. This summer, I published an alternative programme for government, which listed some of the things we want the Nationalists to bring forward in the coming session.
Education is Labour’s priority, because only by giving our young people the skills they need to compete for the jobs of the future can we grow our economy and close the gap between the richest and the rest.
I lead the only party that is talking about plans for Scotland’s future, while the SNP and the Tories simply want to repeat the arguments of the past. That’s why there will be no support for a second independence referendum from Scottish Labour – we will keep the government focused on the day job.
Like the UK itself, the Labour Party is also a family of nations. We benefit from the solidarity that comes from working together as a movement across the whole of the UK.
There will continue to be co-operation between Scottish Labour and UK Labour, but greater autonomy means that we can benefit from being part of something bigger while also taking more decisions at a local level.
These bold new changes will create a party that is fit for the future, so that we can transform the lives of people all across the UK.
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