The deepening crisis at the heart of Scottish Labour is to be laid bare today as a senior party figure will call on the party to embrace the calls for more powers for the Scottish parliament.
In the clearest sign yet that party strategists are beginning to appreciate the shifting political sands that threaten Labour’s Scottish foundations, MP Douglas Alexander will spell out the dangers of defending the status quo.
The party are still struggling to come to terms with the devastating result that saw them lose out to Alex Salmond’s SNP in May’s historic Scottish election.
Having gone into the campaign arguing against significant devolution of powers to Holyrood, Labour have found themselves unable to articulate a positive case for continuation of the current set-up. The Tory inspired Scotland Bill is now widely regarded as dead in the water and the Devo-Max ground is currently unoccupied.
Alexander says that the pre-referendum period must herald “a new affirmation of Scottish Labour’s agenda for our nation”. Although not specifically defined, it is thought that Mr Alexander’s intention is for Labour to claim that ground that lies beyond the Tory/Lib Dem Scotland Bill.
The bill contains plans to alter the Scottish income tax rate by 10p, and invites the Scottish parliament to re-instate the reduction in order to fund the resultant cut to the Scottish budget. However the proposals have been criticised by respected academics who claim that the plans are dangerous and may in fact damage the Scottish economy.
The Devo-Max option would ensure that a form of Union remained, but, crucially would give the Scottish parliament control over Scottish resources, including oil, gas and the vast renewable energy sector.
According to media reports Labour insiders say they are “open-minded” on the proposals and want to consider the message the Scottish voters sent in May.
However Mr Alexander is expected to insist that Devo-Max be excluded from the referendum ballot paper, despite a sizeable number of Scots in favour, “a referendum on separation should only have one question”, he will argue.
According to the Scotsman newspaper he will say: “In the run-up to that referendum now promised by the Nationalists, assuming they do actually summon up the courage to go ahead, we must do more than oppose separation. We must be true to our own history and advocate devolution.”
“That does not and need not require simply a defence of the status quo. Indeed, the Scotland Bill now before the Westminster parliament evidences an open-minded approach as to how the architecture of devolution can be improved.”
He will continue: “I believe that Alex Salmond will be defeated in his referendum on separation (sic). I believe that once again it will be re-asserted that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people. But that does not mean that the settlement itself cannot respond to circumstances.”
The paper claims that senior Scottish Labour MPs have admitted privately they no longer believe they can hold to the line of the status quo – as proposed in the Scotland Bill – given the SNP’s victory in May.
One MP is reported to have said: “Prior to May, it may have been that the Calman plans were what people wanted. But, clearly, May has changed that and you can’t ignore it.”
Crucially, Mr Alexander will address the ‘antipathy’ that exists between Labour and the SNP and admit that Labour will continue to suffer if they are seen to hate the SNP more than they support Scotland. The Paisley MP will admit that the party’s vitriolic attacks on the SNP have prevented them getting their message across.
A spokesman for the SNP said: “Douglas Alexander, along with Henry McLeish and others, now at least seems to realise that the Scotland Bill goes nowhere near enough in satisfying the aspirations of the people of Scotland – yet their MSPs at Holyrood don’t seem to have got the message, and now Labour are deeply split on the issue of including a ‘more powers’ option in the referendum.”
“The only alternative is being in cahoots with the Tories in opposing any more powers for Scotland – a disastrous stance in Scottish politics.”