It's time for federal UK, Scottish Labour MPs tell Jeremy Corbyn

Scottish Labour MPs are lobbying English colleagues and party leader Jeremy Corbyn to back plans for a federal UK, including a role for devolved governments in setting immigration policy.
Sources suggested Mr Corbyn could be convinced of one of the more contentious proposals for constitutional reform. Picture: GettySources suggested Mr Corbyn could be convinced of one of the more contentious proposals for constitutional reform. Picture: Getty
Sources suggested Mr Corbyn could be convinced of one of the more contentious proposals for constitutional reform. Picture: Getty

Senior sources within the Scottish Labour group said its MPs had agreed to push forward plans for a new UK constitutional settlement.

The group believes the proposal can only get off the ground with support from Labour MPs in England, where historically there has been little appetite for constitutional reform.

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And sources suggested Mr Corbyn, who has previously voiced opposition to devolving elements of immigration policy, could be convinced of one of the more contentious proposals for constitutional reform.

One Scottish Labour MP said: “We know there is a good deal of work to be done as federalism hasn’t yet gripped people’s imagination south of the Border. But we believe this is the way forward.” Another party source said: “The Scottish party has adopted the policy and the group of Scottish MPs is fully behind it. We now need to get Jeremy on board. We believe this is the way forward for the UK. It would be home rule for Scotland.”

Under Kezia Dugdale’s leadership, Scottish Labour called for a “new Act of Union” that would give the devolved assemblies power to set the minimum wage and enhance workplace rights.

The UK Labour party adopted calls for a ‘People’s Constitutional Convention’ earlier this year, but work was interrupted by the general election and has since stalled.

There is understood to be concern among Scottish MPs at the lack of movement on a proposal that was entrusted to Corbyn ally John Trickett, but which no longer has a shadow minister to lead it.

A Constitutional convention was first promised by Ed Miliband in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum, and the 2017 Labour manifesto promised a consultation on terms of reference that has yet to take place.

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In the wake of Ms Dugdale’s resignation, Scottish Labour group has decided to take on responsibility for promoting the plans among colleagues and driving the agenda forward.

Mr Corbyn has previously been seen as sceptical of a major overhaul of how powers are distributed, rejecting Ms Dugdale’s call for a new Act of Union and saying that devolution of immigration powers would be “very problematic”.

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However, there is now hope he can be convinced as part of a broader package of reforms to bring about stronger local government and democratise the House of Lords.

The Canadian immigration model, where provinces can set their own criteria and nominate migrants with particular skills within a system administered at a federal level, is one that is being considered.

Lesley Laird, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, said the group of seven MPs would push for the creation of a constitutional convention to debate reforms to local government and greater powers for devolved assemblies.

“Labour is the party of devolution and is committed to continuing that process,” she said.

“Scottish Labour has already adopted federalism for the UK as its policy and Jeremy Corbyn backs a constitutional convention, which will look at extending democracy locally, regionally and nationally; considering the option of a more federal country.

“As Shadow Scottish Secretary I, and my fellow Scottish MPs, will push for the convention to be established so we can look at reforming how Britain works at a fundamental level.”

In his speech to the Labour conference in Brighton earlier this week, interim Scottish leader Alex Rowley included an appeal for constitutional reform.

He said Mr Corbyn’s radical policy agenda “should now be matched by a commitment from Labour for a Constitutional Convention and a federal solution for the United Kingdom, with Scotland as a full and equal partner.”

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Calls for Scotland to be given ‘home rule’ are set to find a new ally if Richard Leonard is elected Scottish Labour leader. The MSP and former union organiser has contributed to the case for “progressive federalism” advanced by the left of the Labour party north of the Border.

In her blueprint set out last year, Ms Dugdale called for the House of Lords to become an elected “parliament of nations and regions” which should sit outside London, with Glasgow suggested as a possible venue.

Her proposals were backed by Labour grandees including Gordon Brown, as well as London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Calls for Scotland to be given some control over immigration policy have been backed by parliamentary committees at Holyrood and Westminster, as well as the social integration all-party group of MPs.