Scottish Labour leader to push for more autonomy from party

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Kezia Dugdale has set out radical plans for securing the autonomy of Scottish Labour from the main party, specifying complete control over policymaking, candidate selection and membership, for the first time.

In her most comprehensive statement to date on the detail of party autonomy, the Scottish Labour leader is urging that her party be given responsibility for all policy decisions, candidate selection in every election, including UK general elections and European parliament elections, as well as the management of local constituency parties.

Dugdale, who was elected with a large majority in August, will elaborate on her plans – which the Guardian understands already have the support of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his deputy, Tom Watson – at the weekly meeting of the parliamentary Labour party in Westminster, on Monday.

While she has not yet set a timetable for the adoption of the measures, Dugdale has made party autonomy her key demand from the first day of her leadership. It is understood that she is determined go into her first election campaign as Scottish Labour leader fully able to counter the charge made by the previous leader Johann Lamont that Scotland was treated as a “branch office” by Westminster.

Pushing through changes to candidate selection quickly would allow her to pursue another priority, which is to widen the net for the recruitment of Scottish Labour politicians, looking beyond the traditional party structures for supporters with different professional and social backgrounds, much as the Scottish National party has done so successfully of late.

Launching the plans on Sunday, Dugdale said: “Too many people tell us they don’t know what we stand for or who we stand with. I knock on doors and hear people say the Scottish Labour party doesn’t have a distinctive voice.”

The new leader still faces an uphill struggle, with the latest polling showing the SNP 30 points ahead of Scottish Labour in Holyrood voting intention. But Dugdale has forged an unexpectedly productive working relationship with Corbyn, despite favouring Yvette Cooper, and those who heard him speak at a fundraising dinner at the start of October were impressed by his grasp of the specific problems facing the party in Scotland.

Scottish Labour sources shrugged off the possibility of policy conflicts with the Labour party. “If you take Trident as the obvious example, say we voted at our conference against renewal, our one Scottish Labour MP is already anti-Trident and still a member of the shadow cabinet. You work through these things.”

Dugdale also plans to encourage Labour to consider extending the principles of policy autonomy throughout the party, and will warn the Labour party not to repeat the mistakes made by Scottish Labour, which was at the forefront of devolution but then half-hearted in its practical application.

She said: “We have to recognise, though, that the UK is changing and so must the Labour party. We should never shy away from being part of a UK-wide movement, but as the country becomes more devolved so too the Labour party has to change with the times. I want the Scottish Labour party to lead the way, and would encourage other parts of the UK Labour party to set out their case for more autonomy.”

Her words come as Jon Cruddas, who coordinated the party’s general election manifesto, called on Labour to reclaim the devolution agenda.

Dugdale added: “The key goal for my leadership is to renew the Scottish Labour party, to show that we are changing. More autonomy for Scottish Labour is central to achieving that goal.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 25th October 2015 16.26 Europe/London

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