Corbyn tries to convince Scotland that the devolution is in the detail

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 28 August 2017 in Inside Politics

Jeremy Corbyn mixed with the Scottish public on his permanent election campaign tour but left the nation with some mixed messages.

"Corbyn-mania" came to Scotland last week as Jeremy continued his post-election not-quite-victory lap around the UK.

But the emphasis was more on the manic as Scottish Labour struggled to reconcile themselves to a leader that many of them hoped would go away for the previous two years.

"The relationship is absolutely excellent and I'm working very closely with everyone in Scottish Labour," the UK Labour leader insisted as he toured the Clydebridge Steelworks in Cambuslang.

Not closely enough it seems, as he soon found himself at odds with MSPs on many of the key policies they have been promoting in the post-indyref age.

Scottish Labour wants immigration policy devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but any suggestion that Corybn is receptive to such a plan is the product of "very excited reporting" by the press, he insisted.

Who could be the source of these excitable reports? Wings Over Scotland, surely, or probably some crypto-nationalist blogger on Labour Hame?

No, it was Kezia Dugdale on World At One the previous day, insisting Corbyn was "very open" to a separate immigration policy for Scotland, "just as he is around employment law".

Standing six feet away at Clydebridge, Dugdale again roped the UK leader in just as he was trying to cut himself loose.

"We have long argued for a federal United Kingdom, we want to see more powers moving out of Westminster to the the devolved nations and regions of the United Kingdom," she said.

"That’s what Jeremy wants, and the details of that are for everybody to debate and discuss.

"I think there is a distinct merit in having immigration powers in the Scottish Parliament to meet the specific demands that we have here.

"Jeremy has obviously got to understand the implications of what that means elsewhere in the UK, but he is very much open to that idea and has said so several times."

The unity unravelled even further as Corbyn addressed an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe who were keen to know if he would embrace federalism to reflect the different attitudes to Brexit throughout the UK.

"We are looking at the way we bring about genuine devolution and particularly economic devolution," he said, promisingly, before adding a note of caution.

"Could you have a separate economic and legal system in different parts of the UK? I think that becomes difficult and very problematic.

"I want a Labour government that is going to legislate better working conditions for everybody across the UK."

Scotland, of course, already has a largely separate legal system with some notable exceptions, including employment law which regulates working conditions across the UK.

How can these positions possibly be reconciled? Well, the devolution is in the detail, according to Scottish Labour.

Labour's UK manifesto promised a "presumption of devolution" of the powers repatriated from Brussels after Brexit, which will include the immigration rights of EU citizens once freedom of movement comes to an end.

"If there wasn't a compelling reason for them to be administered UK-wide then they should be devolved," a Scottish Labour source said.

Labour will establish a Constitutional Convention to hammer all this out, as well as "considering the option of a more federalised country".

The manifesto also establishes a principle of "working with businesses, trade unions, devolved governments and others to identify specific labour and skill shortages".

"Everything is on the table," insists Corbyn, but it's clear he's going to need some convincing on immigration and employment law when he has already put forward some compelling reasons why they should not be devolved.

It is these contradictions that could ultimately kill Labour's election hopes in Scotland if Corbyn ever gets his wish of another snap general election.

That is, of course, unless the other parties' vote collapses under the weight of their own contradictions, such as the Scottish National Party that wishes it wasn't "nationalist" and has given up actively campaigning for an independence referendum for the time being, or the Conservative and Unionist Party that is straining the sinews of the British union with its controversial deal with the DUP.

And for some of the residents of Coatbridge who turned out to hear Corbyn speak, he is the most coherent politician in Britain.

"I think he's amazing," said Terri McInnes, 63, who is originally from London.

"I used to work for the Tory Party. I left over the poll tax and never voted for another political party, but once Jeremy became the leader of the Labour Party I decided that that is the leader that I want. He’s genuine, he’s honest, he’s polite, he’s got a heart."

 

Sharon Harris, 38, said: "He’s going to be a great leader, and hopefully a great prime minister, hopefully soon. He’s a man of the people."

But John Keetley, 61, originally from Lincolnshire, voted Conservative for the first time in June after following Labour his whole life.

"He’s not a man I would vote for," he said. "I don’t have confidence in him. I have confidence in Theresa May, I'm sorry to say."

Labour won in Coatbridge in June by squeezing through the middle with just 2,000 more votes than 2015, as the Conservatives tore strips off the SNP over the constitution and 5,000 fewer people turned out to vote.

If they can convince Scotland to put the constitution aside, neutralising some of their internal contradictions over devolution, they could be back in contention at the next general election as the politics of left and right resurface.

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