Keeping the United Kingdom intact could unite the party and the country, writes Kevin Peel
At its annual conference at the end of February, the Scottish Labour party voted to make support for a federal United Kingdom its party policy. It is time for UK Labour to do the same.
Our colleagues in Scotland, spearheaded by passionate interventions in recent months from Gordon Brown and Kezia Dugdale, have led the fight for federalism for some time, trying to lay out a place for Scotland in the union which reflects the will of the Scottish people whilst keeping the UK intact.
Senior figures on Labour’s frontbench such as Tom Watson and Jon Trickett have indicated support for Labour to head in this direction.
Alison McGovern argues that this is Labour territory and she is right, but support for federalism is not confined to Labour ranks. Last summer in the wake of the referendum result, the cross-party Constitutional Reform Group of MPs produced a report containing some radical proposals to give full sovereignty over most domestic issues to the nations and regions of the UK, pooling decision-making in a smaller national parliament only on matters such as foreign affairs, defence and some financial policies.
Brexit has given new impetus to the debate about the future of our country and its component parts. It is now more important than ever to tackle the growing divide between politics and people and address real issues about identity. Commitment to a constitutional convention by the Labour party and a national debate about fundamentally changing the way we do politics would give an increasingly irrelevant Labour party, which does not seem to have any solutions to the challenges our country is facing or much interest in asking the right questions, something significant to talk about and rally people behind.
At the moment this debate is confined to political anoraks and it needs to be opened up. First we need a campaign in the wider party to engage members, activists and elected representatives at all levels in a meaningful debate to plot out what a Labour approach to federalism would look like and how a federal UK could address our core driving principles such as tackling inequality and ending poverty. This should involve discussions at local party meetings, consultations and debates in every corner of the country. In a party currently dominated by navel-gazing and infighting, a focus on something substantial of such importance to our country’s future could be an important unifier. After winning the argument in the party and getting a clear party position adopted, we need to take the campaign and the debate to the country to flesh it out and build public support ahead of the next general election.
Breaking up the establishment, radically altering the political system, taking decisions and decision-makers closer to people and developing and delivering policies which will improve people’s lives at a much more local level would be a powerful platform for a newly revitalised Labour party in a post-Brexit UK.
Kevin Peel is a councillor on Manchester city council. He tweets at @kevpeel
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