Congratulations to Jim Murphy and Kezia Dugdale, the new leadership duo for the good ship Scottish Labour. Though judging by their first pronouncements they still seem very much stuck in the past. For a party that continues to aver that constitutional change for Scotland is a waste of time and irrelevant to good government, it is rather odd that the duo’s first commitment is to change the constitution of the Labour party in Scotland.
By referring to this as Scottish Labour’s Clause 4 moment, Murphy, unintentionally I presume, merely reminds us that repetitions are more of the farcical nature than anything else. The actual proposals, though dressed up as five principles, amount to very little that is new and nothing that could remotely be called profound.
Scottish Labour will henceforth be a patriotic party, patriotic for Scotland that is, will put Scotland first and will have total control over policy making for all devolved matters. Wow, if this mean anything then it is an admission that previously Scottish Labour was not a party for patriotic Scots, that Scottish Labour did not put Scotland first and that Scottish Labour did not have full say over policy in devolved matters. Quite an admission and a recognition that Johann Lamont was right in her condemnation of London control.
Yet it seems that is not what either Murphy or Dugdale actually mean. Both were at pains to point out that these changes are just to appearances. It seems that the Scottish public were under the false impression that Labour in Scotland was just a branch office under the control of UK Labour. Silly us! How could anyone imagine or even suggest such a thing. Well, apart from Johann Lamont, who is now history.
But just to be sure that no-one can make this false accusation again, Murphy and Dugdale are to change the constitution. Put in all kinds of nice sounding words and emphasise just how Scottish, and patriotic Scottish, Labour is now. Or always was. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. When you have to put down in writing just how pro Scottish you are, bells should start ringing. People will only be convinced by deeds, not constitutional changes.
When it comes to deeds, for a political party this means, at least for opposition parties, coming up with policies that put Scotland first. And judging by their initial interviews, neither Murphy nor Dugdale have anything to say as to just what these different, tailored for Scotland policies might be. Kezia Dugdale in particular seemed unable to come up with anything other than education, when asked by a radio Scotland reporter. Now education has always been separate in Scotland, so if this is an example of the brand new Scotland first that Labour are promising it is unlikely to amount to much. It was also noticeable that Dugdale in that interview was so much happier attacking the SNP than outlining anything positive from Labour.
Despite being pressed on policy differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK, Dugdale came up with nothing. Instead she praised the unity of Labour across the UK. Again and again she banged on that only Labour could save Scotland from the Tories and that voting SNP was very bad. Not a very inspiring start. Especially as voting Labour in 2010 still led to a Tory led government!
There is also the small matter of restricting Scottish Labour’s policy remit to devolved matters only. Who decides how Scottish Labour MPs will vote on Trident for example? Or on immigration policy for instance? It seems that Scottish Labour MPs will just be lobby fodder for UK Labour as per usual. Nothing it seems is going to change in this respect.
Finally the nagging question of why now? We have had a Scottish Parliament for 15 years now. And Murphy and Dugdale have only just realised that there might be a problem with the Labour party? We have got the message intones Kezia Dugdale. Just a small matter of 15 years too late. Assuming that the new, New Labour party, Scottish branch, has really changed.