In a major speech, paid attention to by a small minority of media people and politics junkies, Ed Miliband has promised he’s going to govern just like Margaret Thatcher. The promise came as Ed pledged that Labour’s goal in office would be to devolve power from Westminster.
Now where have we heard that before? Oh aye, from every leader of Her Maj’s Opposition since time began. When in opposition, Cameron and the Tories promised to take power away from government and ’empower individuals’. When they got into office this turned out to mean privatising everything that wasn’t nailed down, and Michael Gove doing an impression of a goldfish while wrecking the English education system.
Maggie herself, when she was in opposition in the late 1970s, also promised to reduce the power of the state and deliver it to ordinary people. We all know what happened next. Many thousands of words have been written describing the effects of Thatcher’s rule, but decentralising Westminster’s power is not amongst them. Instead Thatcher destroyed local government and centralised power in Westminster to an extent that had never been seen before. The power is still there, still centralised. Westminster’s band of mini-me Napoleons are not going to give any of it up unless it’s taken from them.
When Labour was in opposition in the 1990s they too promised to take power away from Westminster and devolve it downwards. We got the Scottish Parliament, but Labour did its utmost to ensure it had as little power as possible – with Tony Blair infamously describing it as a parish council. Meanwhile Labour colluded with the Lib Dems to introduce an electoral system that Donald Dewar and Ming Campbell fondly imagined would ensure a perpetual Labour-Lib Dem coalition.
They only introduced the Scottish Parliament because the demand for it was overwhelming and could not be ignored. Labour’s true commitment to devolution and the decentralisation of power was seen in its proposals to introduce assemblies in the English regions and its handling of local government. Labour didn’t restore the powers to local authorities and the plans for English devolution were watered down to such an extent that the new assemblies would have been powerless talking shops.
It’s a common trick played by Westminster politicians – promise change, but then offer a choice between the status quo or a change which is worse than useless.
Remember the AV referendum? Out of all the possible alternatives to the corrupt and failing first past the post system, Westminster offered us the only system that’s actually worse. Naturally it was rejected. MPs in safe seats up and down the land breathed a sigh of relief and went back to checking their expenses claims.
So you’ll forgive me if I am more than a wee bit cynical about Ed’s promise to bring power to the people. This was not Labour’s conversion to devomax, devoplus, or even devoaweebitmore. He promised mair devolution to everyone and their dug, but not Scotland. Ed managed to get through his entire speech without mentioning Scotland at all. Mentioning Scotland would mean intruding on the private grief that is Johann Lamont’s leadership (well, I say ‘leadership’) of the party’s northern outpost.
What’s more likely is that Labour will strip powers from Holyrood, under the guise of devolving power to local authorities. They’ll reward the city fathers of Glasgow, and call it more devolution. Quangos, ALEOs, and nice fat expense claims for cooncillors here we come.
The reality is that Labour cannot promise more devolution for Scotland, its own Scottish MPs will bitterly resist any attempt to reduce their influence and standing. It was reported in the Herald a few days ago that a number of Labour MPs plan to boycott the party’s Scottish conference to protest against the very mild proposals for devolution due to be unveiled by Johann’s much touted commission shortly before the conference in May. Labour’s Westminster MPs and a significant part of their Holyrood contingent are opposed to any significant extra powers for the Scottish Parliament.
The fragrant Ian Davidson took some time out from ensuring that his constituents in the Govan shipyard would lose their jobs if they vote for independence in order to warn that more devolution for Holyrood would mean the end of the Barnett Formula, and a sharp reduction in the Scottish block grant. Ian will let us have extra powers, but only by impoverishing us.
Ken Wossiname Macintosh – the guy who almost won the Scottish ‘leadership’ election – is also opposed to extra tax powers for Holyrood. Ken’s such a big hitter that he was Better Together’s recent mass public event outside Clarkston train station all by himself.
Another Scottish Labour MP was quoted by the paper as saying that it wasn’t up to Johann Lamont to make proposals for devolution, it was Ed Miliband’s job. But as we’ve already seen, in Ed’s big devo speech he didn’t find time to utter the word Scotland at all.
See – Ed’s an honest politician. He does exactly what he says he’s going to do. He said he is going to govern like Margaret Thatcher, and just like Maggie he ignores Scotland entirely.
If we want real extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, there’s only one way we’ll get them. Over the cold dead corpse of Ian Davidson’s career.