Brown undermining Alexander on devolution

Its been an intriguing few days in Scottish politics.Not for the first time, it seems the Holyrood-Westminster divide in the Labour Party has cracked wide open.

A meeting on January 28 – attended by Brown, chancellor Alistair
Darling, justice secretary Jack Straw, Scottish secretary Des Browne,
and civil servant Jim Gallagher – was held to discuss the union and
Scottish devolution.

The summit, of which the Sunday Herald has been given a full account
by a UK government source, focused on [Labour Scottish Parliament leader Wendy] Alexander’s commission plan.

The prime minister said he found the body’s remit to be acceptable,
but that he wanted the UK government, not Holyrood, to take the lead in
setting it up. He also said he did not believe the word commission was
appropriate; instead he favoured "working party" or "review". The
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP then said the government, rather than the
Scottish parliament, should consult on membership of the review. (Sunday Herald, 10 February)

Iain MacWhirter sums up the impact of Brown’s intervention:

Now Brown is seeking to control a committee which has been created by a vote of the Scottish parliament, and which is supposed to be
financed by the Scottish parliament. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives should be careful before they buy into this exercise. I can’t see the justification for financing it out of Holyrood funds if it is reduced to the status of a UK government review. If this is another of PM’s reviews, then why shouldn’t he pay for it?

The Wendy Commission will have no legitimacy in Scottish eyes if it is seen to be driven by the Westminster political establishment. (Scottish Herald, 10 February)

In the wake of the Sunday Herald story, a Downing Street spokesman denied that there was an attempt to water down Alexander’s proposals.

"The Scottish Parliament has been keen to engage the UK government in the review process.

the Scotland Office and Ministry of Justice announced on 31 January, the government welcomes the review and is considering how best to take forward discussions on the review.

"The Secretary of State for Scotland has had productive meetings with the Scottish political parties and will bring forward proposals after consultation with other political parties." (Scotsman, 11 February)

As the Telegraph’s Alan Cochrane notes, the reference to a ‘review’ rather than to a commission is telling in itself.

Although they look like denials, in fact nothing in
these statements detracts from the assertion – which I know to be true
– that Mr Brown wants to take control of the project.

do they rebut the claim, which again I know to be true, that far from
setting up a Constitutional Commission, as Ms Alexander and the other
Scottish political leaders had envisaged, Mr Brown wants a lesser title
for it. (Telegraph, 12 February)

Scottish Office Minister David Cairns stirred the pot further in an interview on Tuesday:

Launching the commission last year, Ms Alexander
proposed significant new powers for Scotland to set levels of some
taxes and to be assigned a share of other taxes set in London.

However, when it was suggested to Mr Cairns that he was not keen on
giving more tax powers to the Scottish Parliament and that it was up to
Holyrood to make the case, he replied: "Yes. The government’s position
is, is that we think the current fiscal arrangements benefit Scotland,
that there are stable, transparent increases in public spending in
Scotland. There is no case for the massive restructuring of that. In
any case, the Scottish Parliament has powers to levy additional taxes
if they think that’s what they need and they haven’t used them.’ (The Herald, 12 February)

That drew a rebuke from a senior member of Alexander’s team today:

The aide said: "David Cairns and some of his colleagues are out of step with party thinking.

"I would imagine that the bulk of the Scottish party believe in the
dynamic of the situation, which is that if you ask the ordinary man or
woman in the street do you think the Scottish Parliament should have
more powers?’ the answer overwhelmingly will be yes’.

"David Cairns has to realise that. There’s a very clear mood for
change in the context of the commission and for looking at ways to
strengthen the devolution settlement.

"If you look at Scottish politics from a London perspective, then
you don’t see how things have changed post-devolution," the source
added. (The Herald, February 13)

According to the original Sunday Herald story, Scottish Labour MPs at Westminster ‘believe Alexander is  "doing the work" of the SNP.’ Surely that charge should be applied to the Westminster politicans At a stroke, they have undermined the commission plan, the Scottish Parliament which voted for it, and the Scottish Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders who backed it.

Scottish nationalists have claimed all along that the commission was simply a spoiling exercise in response to the Scottish Government’s National Conversation. That charge will now carry much greater weight.

Many people assumed that Alexander’s strategy had the backing of Gordon Brown. To let the commission plan get this far and then squash  it is surely the worst of all possible approaches. It shows a remarkably cavalier attitude to an issue which is crucial for Brown and for Labour. Once again, Westminster Labour has played totally into Alex Salmond’s hands.







5 responses to “Brown undermining Alexander on devolution”

  1. Mike Small avatar
    Mike Small

    This is a total humilation for Alexander.
    She is now a purely comedic figure. Of course such is her relationship with GB that she will be doomed by his protection. The Labour Party cannot escape her and she cant escape the horrors of her post.
    Even now the usual salves of a cushy Unionist media look ridiculous and will backfire now that the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
    It would be sad if she was not – by all accounts – such an arrogant wee shite.

  2.  avatar

    “Brown undermining Alexander on devolution”
    Tom, there are several misconceptions in the articles you’ve pulled together, all of which are being promulgated by the mainstream media in Scotland and the UK.
    As an important piece of background information, Wendy Alexander has very little authority within the Labour Party. I don’t say the, “Scottish Labour Party”, because unlike the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats there is no separate Scottish sub-party in Labour. She’s often described as the, “Scottish Labour Leader”, which is nonsense as she is nothing more than the group leader of the Labour MSP’s in the Scottish Parliament. She has a seat on the Scottish Executive Committee along with three other MSP’s but that is her only official position in the Labour Party. She is not even described as the Parliamentary Group Leader in the committee membership list on Labour’s Scottish website.
    When she made her speech on her proposed new commission to examine the devolution settlement in Scotland I suspect that she had also come to believe the media hype that she was an important player within Labour. As a speech it was full of aspiration but as an indication of how the powerful in Labour were thinking it meant nothing. Wendy Alexander is facing up to the fact that the only reason that her predecessors who lead the Labour MSP’s in Holyrood had influence within the Labour party was because they were incumbents in the post of First Minister. She is the first Labour Group leader not to hold that post and the weakness of her position is very apparent.
    The fact that the January 28 meeting was held without her says it all.
    “Now Brown is seeking to control a committee which has been created by a vote of the Scottish parliament…”
    Iain MacWhirter has got that very wrong. What Wendy Alexander’s Parliamentary Motion said was that the Parliament would support any independently chaired commission and it proposed a remit for that commission. What it did not do was create a commission or define its remit. The motion left the way wide open for Gordon Brown to create his own commission/review/working party and to control its remit and the Scottish Parliament is now duty bound to support it. Annabel Goldie and Nicol Stephen are shown up as a couple of political amateurs. The motion was written to let Brown in with his own commission. The suprise is that there is suprise about his taking over.
    To play this as a spat between Holyrood and Westminster is to make forget that the MSP’s in Holyrood are junior members of the Labour Party in Scotland and the true voice of Labour in Scotland are the voices of the MP’s such as David Cairns or Gordon Brown who hold immeasurably more power within Labour in Scotland than Wendy Alexander does.
    The blunt takeover of the commission and its remit is more of a put down by the main Scottish players in the Labour Party of Wendy and her happy band who have a lot of publicity but very little power or influence within the Labour Party in or out of Scotland.
    Wendy Alexander may be Gordon Brown’s pet but she’s not his chum and there’s a big difference. If a pet steps out of line, unlike a chum, it gets a slap.

  3. DougtheDug avatar

    The above post by Dougthedug. I thought I’d cracked the lack of name problem by using Firefox but no luck.

  4. Tom Griffin avatar

    Sorry about that problem, Doug.
    I take your point about the weakness of the Holyrood party within Labour, but surely the Westminster party have got to figure out sooner or later that it’s self-defeating to keep slapping them down? If not then they really are their own worst enemies.

  5. DougtheDug avatar

    “…but surely the Westminster party have got to figure out sooner or later that it’s self-defeating to keep slapping them down?”
    It’s dangerous to split Labour into Westminster and Holyrood factions. The party recognises no such division. Labour as a whole haven’t figured it out yet. They have ruled unchallenged in Scotland for decades and as in all one-party states the way to the top or the way to influence the party is through factional infighting.
    They haven’t adapted in Scotland and the same tactics of infighting are being used by graduates of the system such as Gordon Brown and David Cairns to control the, “Wendy Commission”, even though the Labour party has lost control of Holyrood and many councils in Scotland.
    From a Labour party perspective it’s an internal slap down in a borderless organisation, from an external perspective it looks like a fight between, “Scottish” Labour in the form of Ms. Alexander and Westminster Labour in the form of Gordon Brown and his Ministers.
    The media have always presented her as, “Scottish Labour Leader”, and because of that the put-down looks much worse outside the Labour party than inside. Inside the Labour party where she controls none of the councillors, MP’s, activists or ordinary members in Scotland it’s just a trouble prone MSP getting put in her place.
    I would agree that Labour are their own worst enemies and it would have been better PR for them to have had the slap-down performed behind closed doors.
    From someone who wants Labour to fall much further till they crash-land it’s great fun.

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