LABOUR should have campaigned on a platform of home rule for Scotland in the Holyrood election instead of being “illogical” and attempting to move the debate on from the constitution, the party’s deputy leader has said.
The party suffered its worst-ever result in a Scottish Parliament election, returning 24 MSPs - a drop of 13 from the previous election - and coming third behind the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives.
Throughout the election campaign the Tories stressed their opposition to any SNP hopes of staging a second vote on independence, while Labour leader Kezia Dugdale appeared to flip-flop on the issue.
Her deputy Alex Rowley said Labour had been in the “right place” with its social and economic policies, which included plans for tax rises to raise additional cash for public services, as he praised Ms Dugdale for being “bold enough to do that”.
But the deputy leader, who lost his Cowdenbeath constituency to the SNP on Thursday but was returned to Holyrood via the regional list system, stressed the party could no longer “ignore the constitution”.
He told the Herald newspaper: “We need to define a positive case for the future of Scotland, built around home rule for Scotland. That’s where I believe we should be, and where we should have been.
“But a decision was taken early in the campaign that we were not going to focus on the constitution because some people believed we needed to put the case for moving on.
“I can see the argument for that, but it is illogical when the country is in a completely different place. The country has not moved on and it looked like we didn’t know where we stood. It left us in a position where every time the constitution came up, we looked very uncertain.
“It wasn’t going to win back Yes voters and No voters felt uncomfortable supporting us too, so it is hardly surprising we are in the position we find ourselves in today.”
Mr Rowley’s comments came after former deputy leader and new Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar said his party “are not comfortable nationalists and we are not comfortable unionists”.
Mr Sarwar told the BBC: “In that binary election process, the Labour Party has got a problem.”
In the immediate aftermath of the election, Ms Dugdale said the “determination to try to move the Scottish debate on” from the arguments of the 2014 independence referendum had cost Labour votes.
Mr Rowley argued: “The constitution in the UK is broken in my view, and we need to build a case for a federal system of government. When you look at the strong devolution that is taking place within cities and regions, I think we are moving in that direction.
“Nobody can say it’s wrong to have that debate and discussion. I believe politicians are hanging on to something when the country has moved ahead of them. Unless we address the question that’s dominant in communities, we can’t move forward.
“In terms of social and economic policies, the Labour Party was in the right place and Kezia was bold enough to do that. She put forward an agenda our candidates were proud of.
“She is the person to lead the party moving forward and the party is totally united behind her. But we can’t ignore the constitution.”