After a protracted period in which Scottish Labour has been reluctant to concede that there is any need to have a constitutional debate between the Calman commission/Scotland bill proposals, there are now signs that Scottish Labour has realised that it has to re-think its constitutional position as well as its organisational structure. One is a speech by Douglas Alexander MP and shadow foreign secretary at the University of Stirling, the text of which can be found in the Caledonian Mercury here. The other is an essay by Malcolm Chisholm MSP (and former MP and Scottish minister) for Labour Hame, available here.
There are many differences between the two pieces. Alexander is very light on constitutional thinking, or indeed saying in concrete terms what he thinks Labour should do at all. But he recognises that they have relied on negative tactics to deal with the SNP in the past, and that these have not worked. He emphasises the need for a positive agenda, which ties together explanations of how Scotland benefits from the Union with an account of how to deal with domestic and social problems within Scotland.
Chisholm focuses much more on constitutional issues, and the need for Labour to develop a ‘devolution max’ position to challenge the SNP effectively. His ‘devolution max’ is evidently rather less far-reaching than the ‘full devolution’ proposed by the SNP (and to be aired further by Alex Salmond in his speech at the SNP conference on Saturday). While he is vague about details, he advocates at least some devolution of social security as well as much further-reaching fiscal devolution.
Neither of these proposals is a finished piece of constitutional thinking, but given the intellectual deep freeze in which Labour’s thinking has been confined for some considerable time, it’s striking that they are willing to be more politically and intellectually adventurous – and these sorts of work take some considerable time.