September 13, 2019 Blog, Media



Democracy requires continual renewal.

The Scottish Parliament is twenty years old this year. And this week we have witnessed Boris Johnson close down Parliament.

We have seen power abused, by a desparate Prime Minister who is without a mandate. Leading a Government without a mandate. On a political platform without a mandate.

So it is a good time to consider democratic renewal. Not from a nationalistic perspective which is manifested in the Scottish nationalism of Nicola Sturgeon and in the English nationalism of Boris Johnson.

We seek sovereignty not just for the nation but for its people.

And while we will always challenge nationalism in the battle of ideas.

People want to know what the Scottish Labour Party is for not simply what we are against and so this morning John and I are setting out a positive agenda for real change.

How we can shift power closer to the people.

How we can decentralise and democratise the state.

How we can extend democracy not just at the ballot box, but in every workplace and every community. Because for me that goes to the very root of my own politics shaped by my working life experience, because if democratic socialism means anything above all else it is surely the extension of democracy into the economy.

And so for the avoidance of doubt this democratic renewal this redistribution of power we seek this is not simply about Parliaments and the Members elected to them, it is about strong local government.

It is about redressing the imbalance of power between tenant and landlord, between worker and owner, between citizen and state, between women and men.

The next Labour Government’s success will depend critically on its determination to shift the balance of power in our constitution and in our institutions in order to deepen and extend democracy.

This will be not only be a necessary accompaniment to the economic, social and environmental transformation we will deliver – it will be its very essence.

And this will be the approach of a future Scottish Labour Government too.

We know from the SNP’s so-called Sustainable Growth Commission report that their “clear-sighted…prospectus” for Scotland is founded on a new heavy dose of austerity, an ever-growing reliance on Foreign Direct Investment, and on a labour market based on what they call “flexicurity”.

It is not a brighter future the SNP offer, it is a far bleaker one.

So neither the status quo, nor the nationalists’ prescription for managed decline provide what Scotland needs.

Radical reform is key to our positive case for remaining part of the UK.

Our Scottish Parliament needs more powers – and should take on these powers with a clear mandate to empower our citizens.

But first and foremost, our Parliament must use the powers it already has to empower the people of Scotland.

The Parliament has become complacent, and it has come to lack ambition.

Over its first 20 years, our Parliament began to reform the ownership of land. but too much power still lies in too few hands. We have legislated for equality but too much inequality still persists.

We have passed laws to end homelessness but we see rough sleeping all around us, as waiting lists get longer and longer.

We brought Scotland’s biggest private hospital into the NHS, but we have yet to eliminate profiteering from every corner of our public Health Service.

We have endless debates about Scotland’s political independence – but ownership of the Scottish economy is becoming more and more concentrated in the same hands – increasingly overseas.

So we talk of political sovereignty while losing economic sovereignty.

A few months ago working with Lesley Laird and the UK leadership of the Labour Party, including John McDonnell, I tasked a small group led by Pauline Bryan in the House of Lords to consider how we can redistribute wealth and power, how we can ensure decisions are taken as close as possible to people and their communities, which powers were needed where and for what purpose.

As part of this work I have asked them to consider whether a federal settlement is the best way to rebalance the overly centralised UK state.

In doing so I have been clear that we cannot impose a federal structure right across the UK unless it is demanded right across the UK, but it is also increasingly obvious that calls for decentralisation are heard right across these shared islands, and what’s more that they are growing.

Since Labour made the historic breakthrough and delivered devolution in the early years of the 1997 Government, we have nibbled away at the constitution.

But now the time has come to consider more radical reform again.

Let me be clear the goal of this Labour reform agenda is to deliver for the people of Scotland.

So let me turn to some of the ideas that have been developed for remaining in and reforming the UK.

Let me start with finance. In 2021 the Fiscal Framework is due to be reviewed. The current Framework negotiated by John Swinney in 2016 is a bad deal for Scotland.

Under the SNP deal Scotland benefits in full from revenues raised as a result of  Scottish Government fiscal policy decisions. But it loses in full if the Scottish economy performs poorly compared to the rest of the UK.

In practice this means that if Scotland’s tax performance is poor compared to the rest of the UK as a result of Brexit, or the downturn in oil and gas, or the effect of an ageing population, or all three, then through the Block Grant Adjustment we take a hit.

A gaping hole will open up in our budget.

And then under the Framework if more people receive social security benefits in Scotland – relative to the rest of UK – we take another hit. This is morally counter-intuitive, and economically counter-productive.

So Scottish Labour will propose an overhaul of the Block Grant Adjustment mechanism and a review of the wider Fiscal Framework so that a floor is provided and so that the adjustment on social security is not downwards – but upwards – according to Scotland’s needs.

Although Holyrood now has borrowing powers, we want these to be extended so that we have powers fit for a Parliament.

So we are proposing that Scottish Government should be able to borrow and issue bonds for both resource and capital spending without restriction.

This will enable us to end the model of private control for funding public services.

So I say to those ISS workers at Hairmyres Hospital, who I met in East Kilbride two weeks ago: we will end once and for all the role of private contractors in these arrangements – starting in the National Health Service.

In the next phase of Land Reform legislation will examine maximum ownership levels, and requirements for residency to discourage absentee landlordism – even if you happen to be the President of the United States of America.

For us, it’s about giving democratic community ownership a renewed impetus.

Because we want to see a redistribution of wealth and power, and reforming Scotland’s land ownership will be at the heart of that.

And because ownership is power, we will examine ways of extending democratic forms of ownership in other areas too.

We will work proactively with local councils to expand municipal ownership in public services like buses, social care, and energy.

We will introduce an Industrial Reform and Common Ownership Act to give workers the right – enshrined in law, and prioritised above other interests, to buy an enterprise when it is up for sale or facing closure.

So that never again do we see workers like those at the Caledonian Railway works in this city let down in their hour of need by an SNP government, which in the end has neither courage nor conviction.

We will give workers themselves the power to decide their own future, and so make their own history.

We will support the development of co-operatives and invest in co-operative development again giving Co-operative Development Scotland the legal backing it needs to empower workers and communities.

And we will take Scotland’s train services back into public ownership at the earliest opportunity as well.

A new Scotland Act under Labour will provide for the devolution of employment law.

Day one employment rights will be a hallmark of an incoming Labour Government.

In Scotland we will use public procurement – currently worth £11 billion – to drive up labour standards by making it a requirement that employers pay the real living wage. Do not use zero hours contracts, or other inventions of the gig economy like umbrella companies – which were recently used to exploit workers on the construction of the Aberdeen western peripheral route.

We will ban from public contracts any companies caught up in the blacklisting scandal until they own up, clean up and pay up.

We will establish sectoral bargaining arrangements but we want to go further: a future Scottish Labour Government under my leadership will not only establish sectoral bargaining

We will establish sectoral industrial and economic planning as well as part of a long overdue industrial strategy for Scotland: bringing together trade unions, employers and government.

Because it is not good enough for the SNP to declare that Government intervention in the Scottish economyis on a “case by case” basis.

This is the SNP’s policy “case by case”.

What we need is not “case by case” we need a comprehensive, proactive, forward looking industrial strategywith a national economic action plan, to back it up that puts together Lanarkshire steel, Highland aluminium, with our engineering base, our renewable energy demand, our public transport needs and our public procurement policy.

We have a centralised constitution and an imbalanced economy in the UK.

The real life events of recent weeks underline more than any words just why we urgently need reform.

We know that there is a huge concentration of power: government, Parliament, the Supreme Court, the City, the Bank of England, the BBC, corporate HQs are huddled together in central London.

As a result wealth, talent and power is sucked in to London, even two decades after devolution.

At the same time in Scotland political power has become increasingly centralised around Holyrood.

From Police and Fire Services to economic development and education, power has not shifted closer to our communities – but further away.

We need local government not local administration.

We will re-empower our councils, allowing them to take the initiative rather than act simply as an agency of central government.

And we must consider, inside or outside the EU – and I want to remain in – how intergovernmental, and inter-parliamentary relations work inside the UK.

The BREXIT process has shown the current haphazard arrangements are unfit for purpose. They are both hierarchical and unbalanced. They are in need of reform. And by being reformed could provide democratic checks and balances

So that’s why we are proposing the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber: a Senate of the Nations and Regions that could begin the process of reshaping our political system.

A federal system could be built on a principle of co-determination, of shared powers based on partnership not hierarchy.

It would allow both subsidiarity and solidarity.

Based as well on a charter of rights with minimum standards below which no part of the UK could fall.

There is widespread discontent, but rising determination everywhere that the people need more of a say, more democracy.  The challenge is how do we extend democracy so that it is not a spectator sport.

It means when we talk of public ownership we mean a mosaic not a monolith. Not uniformity from above, but initiative from below with worker involvement – so it is not about state monopoly in the old style.

It means diffusing power downwards and outwards.

It means a new institution in place of the antiquarian House of Lords.

There is a practical as well as a moral case for reform because the system of government must have the consent of the people. These changes will have to be worked for and people won over.

Where the nationalists are dogmatic we will be patient, open minded and tolerant.

We must be confident, confident in the democratic tradition which we inherit confident in the socialist ideal that drives us, confident in these practical ideas for radical reform.

Today is just a start.

The start of a democratic renewal.

The start of a renewal of Scottish Labour.

On the road to 2021.

And on the road to the General Election whenever it comes.

Thank you