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by Staff reporter
23 April 2024
Daniel Johnson: Relationship between Scottish and UK Labour ‘had been a problem’ in early devolution years

Photo by Anna Moffat

Daniel Johnson: Relationship between Scottish and UK Labour ‘had been a problem’ in early devolution years

The relationship between Scottish and UK Labour is the best it has been since devolution, a Labour MSP has said.

Daniel Johnson, in an interview with Holyrood, admitted that “personal connections” between the two frontbenches “had been a problem” during the earlier years of the Scottish Parliament.

But the Scottish shadow economy secretary said the current leadership of UK Labour recognises the need for partnership working between the central and devolved governments.

He said: “I don’t think there was that level of trust and commitment back then and there is a recognition from them [now] that this is a partnership and Scotland needs their attention and they need to understand it and engage with it.”

In particular Johnson praised his counterpart, shadow business and trade secretary Johnny Reynolds – with whom he meets at least once a month – and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves.

He added: “Rachel in particular has spent quite a lot of time thinking about Scotland… That reflects not just changes here but the changing nature of politics and of devolution in England. They recognise this isn’t a pyramid and to successfully govern, you need all the constituent parts of the UK, whether that’s metro mayors or devolved administrations. You need a strategy that works through all of these.”

In a wide-ranging interview in which the Edinburgh Southern MSP discussed his ADHD diagnosis, his party’s improving relationship with business and ambitions for the 2026 Scottish Parliament election, Johnson also defended the Scottish party’s ability to take a different stance on issues from the UK party.

Scottish leader Anas Sarwar was at odds with the party’s official position on a ceasefire for Gaza late last year. He backed a motion supporting a ceasefire in November in Holyrood, while at the same time UK leader Keir Starmer was facing a rebellion for refusing to do the same in the Commons.

Starmer ultimately backed a ceasefire in the region at Scottish Labour’s conference in February.

Other differences between the two frontbenches have been Starmer’s refusal to confirm a Labour government would scrap the two-child cap on benefits and Sarwar’s backing of the blocked Gender Recognition Reform Act in 2021.

Johnson said: “There will always be differences, that was the whole point of devolution, that is not a bad thing, and we are not always going to be identical in terms of policy. If that’s what people want, then go back to the old Scottish Office set-up but that is not what I want.”

And asked about apparently complimentary comments made by UK Labour politicians about Conservative former prime minister Maragret Thatcher, he urged colleagues to be “more considered” in their language.

“One of the key objectives for Labour governments ever since the 1980s has had to be to fix the deep damage done by Thatcher, so we have nothing to praise her for,” he added.

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