Gordon Brown has unveiled plans to “make Britain work for Scotland”, including calls for directly elected provosts, House of Lords reform, and new powers for the Scottish Government to enter into international agreements.
The former prime minister said the choice in Scotland at the next election would now be between “no change with the Conservatives, change within the United Kingdom with Labour and change by leaving the United Kingdom with the SNP”.
“It is no longer the old question,” he said yesterday, speaking to journalists ahead of the publication of the paper.
The SNP dismissed the plan as “underwhelming” and “full of vague platitudes.”
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The 40 recommendations in the 155 page report from the Commission on the UK’s Future will now go out to consultation, with much of them then forming the Labour Party’s manifesto at the next General Election, expected to be in 2024.
It comes as Labour still enjoys a sizeable poll lead over the Tories following the chaos of Liz Truss’s brief stint in No 10.
Last week, a Scotland-wide survey suggested the party were also making substantial inroads north of the border, forecasting they could take 31 per cent of the vote at the next general election, just 10 points behind the SNP.
However, that poll, carried out by Redfield and & Wilton Strategies, also found a surge in support for independence, following the Supreme Court’s ruling that Holyrood cannot hold a referendum on the constitution without the consent of Westminster.
Mr Brown’s report does not set out what needs to happen for there to be a new vote.
When asked about the democratic route to Indyref2 he said there was “not going to be a referendum”.
He added: “People accept that now. The SNP accept that. The issue now is what sort of change can we bring about in the next year or two.
“And we believe that if there was a Labour government we could have faster, safer change taking place.
“Now the issue surely, in the United Kingdom, but particularly in Scotland, is between no change with the Conservatives, change within the United Kingdom with Labour and change by leaving the United Kingdom with the SNP.”
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He said the document was a “programme of major constitutional, social, economic and political reform that will be implemented by a Labour government.”
“That is the answer to people’s desire for change. And Nicola Sturgeon herself has said that the issue is now the next General Election.
“So let’s see what the differences between what [the SNP] want at the next General Election and the social, economic, political and constitutional reforms that are absolutely massive in their impact, and if you like, in line with Scottish opinion.
“And I believe that people in Scotland will want to support what we’re doing, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it will be implemented immediately.”
Setting up the Commission on the UK’s future was one of Sir Keir Starmer’s first acts after succeeding Jeremy Corbyn in 2020.
Recommendations in the report, include scrapping the House of Lords, and replacing it with an Assembly Of The Regions And Nations, with an “enhanced Scottish representation” and a “constitutional role to protect the devolution settlement.”
It also calls for “devolution within Scotland” with new directly elected mayors or provosts for Scotland’s major cities.
There is also a recommendation that the Job Centre Network be devolved, with Mr Brown suggesting this could be transferred to local councils rather than to Edinburgh.
His report also recommends Scottish representation on UK national bodies, including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Bank of England, and Ofgem.
Meanwhile, 12 UK Government agencies could be moved out of London, with a number coming to Scotland, transferring thousands of jobs.
The Sewel Convention, which states Westminster should not normally legislate in devolved areas without consent, would be beefed up, making it harder for the UK Government to override.
The ex-Kirkcaldy MP said reform to the UK’s structures “could be more attractive than independence” for a group he described as “middle Scotland.”
While 30% of Scottish voters were solidly in favour of independence and 30% were committed to the Union, there were, he said, 40% in the middle.
“And these are the people who want change. “They’re younger, more female, more Remain, more Scottish than British.
“They’re primarily Scottish, but they’re meaningfully British, not anti-British. “And they, of course, are the people in the middle. And to get a majority on either side you have to persuade them one way or the other.
“Now, we have found in our polling that by a margin of 50% to 10%, with the rest undecided, they believe a serious plan to change Britain could be more attractive than independence for Scotland.”
The SNP’s Keith Brown said the report was “yet another underwhelming constitutional reform plan from the Labour Party, full of vague platitudes, empty promises, and what feels like the 10,000th time they have committed to reform the House of Lords.”
“Ironically, a report which claims to be about strengthening devolution in many cases actually looks set to undermine it,” he added.
“The fact is, Labour are now a pro-Brexit party with a pro-Brexit leader. They are completely at one with the Tories when it comes to ignoring Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU, and ignoring the democratic will of the people of Scotland to determine their own future – and nothing in these proposals changes that.
“Through independence, Scotland can build a genuine partnership of equals with other nations across these islands – not only protecting the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament, but allowing us to escape the failing, Brexit-based, UK economic model and build a fairer, more prosperous and sustainable Scotland.”
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