Labour’s insidious threat to devolution

Anyone who was daft enough to have thought that a Conservative defeat at the next Westminster general election and Sunak’s replacement with a Labour government led by Keir Starmer would mean an end to British nationalist attacks on the devolution settlement is in for a very big disappointment. The right wing Labour party of Keir Starmer, whose Scottish branch office is firmly in the grip of the über-unionists headed by Ian – union flag jaiket – Murray, Jackie Baillie, and Anas Sarwar, is every bit as much a threat to the devolution settlement as the Conservatives. The Tories hate devolution because they are Anglo-British nationalist centralists. Labour hates devolution when it doesn’t do what the Labour party intended it to do, which was to provide the Labour party with a permanent power base in Edinburgh even while the Conservatives are in power in Westminster.

The Labour party’s support for devolution was always transactional, it was about what Scotland could do for the Labour party, and never about what the Labour party could do for Scotland. That remains as true today as it did in 1997, when Tony Blair enacted a heavily watered down version of the original devolution proposals. However since the Scottish people have for the past decade and a half refused to cooperate with what the Labour party deems to be the ‘true’ purpose of devolution, which is to give power to the Labour party, Labour is more than willing to undermine devolution in order to get what it wants.

A case in point is the recent action of Stephen McCabe, the Labour leader of Inverclyde council, who has written to Michael Gove, that well known ally of the People’s Party (sic), pleading with him to overrule the decision of the Scottish Government to freeze Council Tax. Deputy First Minister Shona Robison has offered Scottish local authorities £147 million in funding to keep the taxat current levels, with an additional £45 million to come from the UK Government’s Budget which is due to be announced next week.

McCabe has urged Gove to by pass the Scottish Government and in so doing undermine the devolution settlement. He wrote in a letter addressed to Gove and copied to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt: “You will be aware from press reports that the Scottish Government’s Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Finance Shona Robison MSP has advised Scottish Councils that they will only receive a share of the estimated £45m of Barnett consequentials from the UK Government if they agree to freeze Council Tax.”

He added: “I am seeking your urgent intervention to ensure that all Councils in Scotland receive a share of this additional funding, should it be allocated by the Chancellor in next week’s UK Budget.”

Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of this particular case, by urging Conservative ministers to overrule the Scottish Government on this issue, McCabe is setting a precedent and giving them tacit permission to intervene in future on other matters. He’s opening the door to the undermining of the devolution settlement. It’s especially foolish as the Conservatives will seize on any excuse to attack devolution. McCabe has extended them a hand to do so, but in the words of the Spanish expression. Dales la mano y te tomarán el codo, give them a hand and they’ll take your elbow.

Following McCabe’s letter, West Dunbartonshire Labour council leader Martin Rooney is also understood to have written to Gove urging Tory ministers to step in over the Scottish council tax freeze.

Anas Sarwar has so far remained silent as senior figures within his party are rubbishing the devolution settlement calling for an effective return to direct Westminster rule. Don’t look to the Tory enabling Labour party in Scotland to defend the devolution settlement.

It would be bad enough if this was the only way in which Starmer’s little helpers in Scotland posed a threat to the devolution settlement, but it’s far far worse than that.

Labour peer George Foulkes – you’d think that in a sane world the phrase ‘Labour peer’ would be a contradiction in terms – but we clearly don’t live in a sane world, has announced an attempt to force an early Holyrood election should Labour overtake the SNP in terms of number of seats in Scotland at the next Westminster general election. Foulkes has problems grasping the concept of democracy, as evidenced by the fact that he’s an unelected peer.

Foulkes recently announced that he is seeking to prohibit the Scottish Parliament from pursuing independence. It makes no difference to him if that’s what the electorate voted for it to do. Foulkes only accepts the legitimacy of the ballot box when it produces a result to his liking.

Now he’s gone further – and has not been condemned for it by Anas Sarwar. The mandate of the current Scottish Parliament does nor expire until May 2026, but that means nothing to Foulkes, who wants Westminster to dissolve the Scottish Parliament and hold early elections in order to instal a compliant Labour led Scottish Government, one which will meekly do Starmer’s bidding.

Branch manager Sarwar also seeks to attack Holyrood by removing powers from the Scottish Parliament and giving them to local authorities instead, some of which are of course more likely to be controlled by the Labour party.

There are good arguments for decentralising power in Scotland, and in an independent Scotland I’d strongly advocate it. But we don’t live in an independent Scotland, we live in a highly centralised British state where we need a strong Scottish Parliament able to stand up to an overweening and powerful Westminster. Sarwar wants to undermine Holyrood’s ability to do that, however much her dresses it up in self-serving cant about ‘true devolution’. As always, with the Labour party in Scotland, it’s really about what is most advantageous for the Labour party, not about what is best for Scotland.

Over the weekend it was the conference of the Tory party in Scotland. The Tories make no secret of their hostility to devolution, but they’re a spent force facing a historic defeat in England and the possibility of a wipe-out in Scotland. The Labour party is a far more insidious threat, a British nationalist wolf dressing itself in devolution clothing while plotting to neuter the Scottish Parliament and permanently block any moves towards independence – irrespective of what the people of Scotland want.


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