Lamont: Labour needs to stop apologising for past mistakes

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by a Newsnet reporter

In her speech to Labour’s Scottish conference in Dundee, Johann Lamont has called on the party to “stop apologising for the mistakes of the past”, and urged party members to start fighting for Scotland.

Addressing the poorly attended conference where many seats were empty, Ms Lamont told Labour delegates:  “We know what happened last May – we looked tired and complacent and we got the kind of beating we deserved.

“But now, we need to start building the kind of Scottish Labour Party which Scotland deserves and which Scotland needs …  We lost an election. We did not lose our sense of right and wrong.  We did not lose our values.

“And we will not lose the fight to make Scotland a fairer, more open, more just place to live in, because that is why we exist.”

In an effort to regain the initiative in the constitutional debate, Ms Lamont said she would head a new commission within the party to look at what powers could be devolved to Scotland beyond those contained in the Scotland Bill.

Ms Lamont said:  “I believe being in the United Kingdom is good for Scotland. But that does not mean it cannot change. We will look at ways that devolution can change, what more powers are needed. I will lead Labour’s commission on devolution.  And on that commission I want not just Holyrood and Westminster colleagues, but trade union colleagues and colleagues from local government.”

However in an echo of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s demand that extra powers for Holyrood could only be discussed after Scotland had voted against independence in the planned referendum, Ms Lamont said that Labour would come up with proposals to extend the powers of the Scottish Parliament, but warned:  “Before we do that we must take to the country the case for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom.”

Ms Lamont said that she would spearhead the Labour campaign to keep Scotland within the UK, and added that former prime minister Gordon Brown and his chancellor Alistair Darling would also take a prominent part in the campaign.

However Ms Lamont’s efforts to construct a coherent Labour narrative on the constitutional settlment will be hampered by the deep divisions within her party on the subject.  This week both Ms Lamont and Ed Miliband rejected the transfer of Corporation Tax to the Scottish Parliament, yet this was one of the key proposals contained within the ‘Devo Plus’ plan which was launched earlier this week with the public backing of Labour MSP Duncan McNeil, an influential member of Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee.  

The new Labour commission is due to begin work later this spring.  Membership of the commission will be restricted to Labour politicians, and representatives of trade unions affiliated to the party.   There will be no invitations extended to representatives of ‘civic Scotland’ representing voluntary organisations, churches or the business sector.

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, senior Labour figures admitted that they had a tactical difficulty in proposing detailed new powers.  Any detailed proposal could backfire with a challenge from the Scottish government to add a question on the proposal on the referendum ballot.

Speaking at a conference organised by the Times newspaper recently, First Minister Alex Salmond spoke of the need for the anti-independence parties to specify what they were offering Scottish voters.

Mr Salmond said:  “There is a growing need for those parties who are against independence to set out what they actually stand for.

“It is something of a paradox that the people most urgently calling for an early referendum are the ones who are currently least equipped to argue their case in any campaign.

“Without a clear statement of what Scotland might look like in future within the union, the case against independence is inevitably based more on a negative view of Scotland’s potential than a positive vision of the future.”