As the UU and Conservative parties explore the CDU/CSU model as a means of reconciling common national goals with regional differences, it appears that the Scottish Labour Party may be thinking along similar lines. In an article in the Sunday Times Henry McLeish, former Labour first minister, expressed the opinion that in order to affect a recovery in Scotland there is “the need for the party in Scotland to have much greater autonomy; the need for the Scottish Labour leader to have more power and a wider authority”.
McLeish argues that the Labour party in Scotland needs the freedom to pursue a ‘new mindset’ and establish a ‘new identity’. Although instinctively unionists may baulk at the notion of greater autonomy or different structural links between central parties at Westminster and their regional manifestations, something radical is needed to provide, as McLeish puts it, “a powerful antidote to the resurgent SNP”. The idea has been around for a while, that the Scottish Labour Party must be allowed to express a more robust ‘Scottish’ identity to challenge the SNP and paradoxically to offset its challenge to the Union.
“Being uncompromising in our defence and promotion of Scottish interests should no longer be considered to be at odds with a renewal of the Union and our role in it.”
Whether or not one accepts the argument that Labour has yet to accept the realities of a new political identity and a new political culture (which McLeish puts forward), it is interesting that the means he advocates by which to address these perceived deficiencies have characteristics in common with the arrangements by which the Conservatives and Ulster Unionists are, contrastingly, seeking to move together. From a Labour monolith, McLeish and others wish to carve a more distinct identity, in order to reflect regional differences. In contrast, from two distinct parties, the UUP and Tories wish to forge an electoral alliance, whilst retaining something of their separate identities, and in so doing are acknowledging those regional differences.
Although the goals are subtly different and although the starting points are diametrically opposite, the end points for which both are striving are strikingly similar. Whether this represents a discernible, or important, new current in British politics remains to be seen.