Lewis Akers

Lewis Akers

Starmer in Scotland: Why Nobody Cares

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Lewis Akers argues the repetitive nature of Labour’s speculations on further devolution shows they understand the collapse of their own authority.

You could forget that Scottish Labour existed in light of their secular decline both in the polls and electorally, were it not for their occasional self-inflicted embarrassments. Keir Starmer, despite polls suggesting that support for independence is at its biggest since devolution, has suggested the fix that no one is asking for.

In his speech this week Starmer called for a “new phase of radical economic and political devolution across the United Kingdom”. Seeing as he is apparently engaged in an effort to purge Labour of every last radical member, it is unclear who would deliver this radical agenda. Newly sidelined factions include those who have actually made an investment in the idea of radical federalism – niche and abstract though that planning may have been. Starmer’s big reveal, that Gordon Brown would (once again) head-up the party’s investigation into new devolution only confirms that the old party machine, with little to no interest in radical democratic reform, is firmly back in control.

The lackluster character of the pronouncement is puzzling in at least one regard. Starmer really needs this to work. He really needs Labour to come back in Scotland; this presenting the only viable route to an election victory in 2024. This is the ultimate riposte to the ‘Under New Leadership’ shtick. Repackaging ones self as Blair circa 1997 only works if one has access to his coalition, and it crucially involved Scotland. Without that, Starmer needs real political successes from an imaginative programme that once again fails to materialise.

It is equally unclear, as Cat Boyd has argued, who if anyone is asking for this reform. In addition to failing to answer his critics in the independence movement, Starmer actively ignored the significant backing for independence from his own avowed constituency. In his speech he directly contradicted the Scottish Trade Union Congress, which voted this year to back a second independence referendum in the event the public demand it. His proclamations were out of touch with the views of his own party members and voters, with many either supporting a second independence referendum or declaring out and out support for independence. In contrast to them, Starmer wishes to use devolution as a way to suppress democratic rights.

His latest intervention is the latest in a long line of identikit failures. Starmer is dressing himself in the clothes of the tragedy that was ‘The Vow’ – the meaningless promise by Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour leaders in 2014 of substantial further devolution. It served only to further trash the Labour party’s reputation.

It would be easy to dismiss Labour’s repetitions. But their amnesiac quality is meaningful. It indicates a genuine loss of authority. Starmer’s Scottish pronouncement met with little scrutiny, because no one felt it was worth the bother. When previously the emperor had no clothes, no one challenged them. Now the emperor is naked and no one is pretending otherwise.

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