It was when we were discussing the Scotland Bill in the House of Commons it struck me just how different the place is. For a start, there were none of the aggressive interventions and the attempts to shout down SNP MPs from the Scottish Labour benches – entirely because there are no Scottish Labour MPs left! Save the one lone survivor, of course, who is required to serve on the front bench. Their diminished state was so apparent, that a shadow Welsh Minister had to be drafted in to sum up on the bill.
This current Scotland Bill is a curious piece of legislation. Like all hastily drafted bills, it is totally flawed and open to interpretation. It can’t even agree with itself on the ‘permanence’ of the Scottish Parliament. It has been scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament devolution committee and there was cross-party agreement in Holyrood that the bill must be improved. But predictably, the Tories gave nothing away.
Labour at least tried to improve the bill, but their heart wasn’t in it. Like ‘English votes for English laws’, they can’t be bothered with Scotland anymore, having more or less (probably correctly) written off their chances in a nation that has comprehensively rejected them.
Is there a way back for Scottish Labour? Well, yes there is, and it is so apparent that I can’t believe they can’t see it. Labour currently inhabit a place in Scottish politics that goes against the thrust and the grain of Scottish public political opinion. The referendum redefined everything and Scotland now really, really cares about its constitutional future. The vast majority of the Scottish people have settled for a place which straddles devo-max, near federalism and independence, somewhere Labour themselves may have been headed towards by the end of the referendum.
What makes this extraordinary is that Labour have since spent the last few weeks totally rubbishing what the Scottish people say they want and what Labour claimed they wanted to deliver. With their inept campaign against full fiscal autonomy (FFA), they had to explain to the Scottish people why this, in their words, would be a ‘disaster’. This had to be dressed up with the crushing news that, like independence, they were just too wee, too poor and unimaginative to manage the policy that is as close as possible to the new settled will of the Scottish people.
But that brings us back to the Scotland Bill itself and what happened when this was discussed. Well, the debate itself on the measure was the usual – ‘we were too poor, etc’. Then astonishingly Labour abstained. Now, I’m actually taking this as progress. It’s good that Labour are at least unsure about FFA now. Labour have got to get to the place where they say that they are at least open to all options for Scotland’s constitutional future. And there are signs that they are at least looking at FFA.
If they do not, Kezia Dugdale may indeed be right – they aren’t at rock bottom yet. Labour have got to get with the general national plan or they are indeed finished. It’s up to them.