Des Browne has just completed his first set of engagements north of the border since his apppoinment as Secretary of State for Scotland in June. It seems there are high hopes that he and Wendy Alexander can overcome the Westminster – Holyrood tensions that have dogged Scottish Labour in recent years.
Jack McConnell regularly proved himself unable to work with Labour
in London, so sensitive was he to claims he was doing London’s bidding.
Alexander, however, has long had a foot in both camps. Thus, the
optimists insist, she and Browne will work in tandem, yielding to the
other when appropriate, neither seeking the limelight for its own sake.
Clearly there is some truth in this. Browne may be focusing more
attention on Scotland but his real energies will still be on his
defence portfolio. As for Alexander, while she has gone out of her way
in the last week to emphasise the Scottish-ness of her plans, she is
clearly not the type, a la McConnell, to spurn advice just because it
comes from Whitehall. (Scotland on Sunday)
The article goes on to point out the flaw in this benign scenario, the fact that Alexander and Browne have recently made contrasting statements on the issue of further devolution. However, the Secretary of State now seems to have shifted his rhetoric much closer to the Scottish leader-elect:
"The Scottish Parliament has increasingly obtained more powers in the
context of the settlement. There are discussions that will go on over a
long period and we are at the beginning of that process." (Scotsman)
This is perhaps further evidence for the belief, apparently universal among Scottish commentators, that Alexander has Gordon Brown’s endorsement for her openness to more fiscal powers for Holryood. Northern Ireland tax campaigners take note!
I suspect that it will take more than Alexander and Browne working ‘in tandem, yielding to the
other when appropriate, neither seeking the limelight for its own sake’ to recover Labour’s position in Scotland.
Alexander needs to worry about taking the limelight from Alex Salmond first and foremost. To do that she needs to be Labour’s top dog in Scotland, not co-equal with a part-time cabinet minister.