When Johann Lamont announced that she was going to step down as leader of Scottish Labour, she also pointed out what needs to happen now: “The Scottish Labour Party must be a more autonomous party which works in partnership with the UK party. We must be allowed to make our own decisions and control our own resources.” Some people are even suggesting that Scottish Labour should become a separate party that works together with rUK Labour in the House of Commons, in the same way that CDU and CSU always work together in Germany.
I totally agree that this is sorely needed to enable the party to compete successfully with the SNP again. However, as far as I can tell, nobody in Scotland can make that kind of decision — just like devolution in the UK, it would have to be granted by the centre. This was exactly Lamont’s problem — she didn’t have any real power and constantly got overruled by Miliband and the other Labour MPs, and whoever succeeds her will have the same problem. Unless they want to form a brand-new party and resign en masse from Labour, they’ll have to convince UK Labour to grant them the internal devolution they need.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe UK Labour will do this. The only thing that matters to them is whether they get a lot of loyal MPs sent down from Scotland at each general election, and the SNP’s electoral successes have so far been limited to Holyrood, the European Parliament and the councils. From their point of view, Scottish Labour is still supplying the goods.
Because of their focus on Westminster, UK Labour HQ also won’t agree to a separate party in Scotland — that would create the possibility of disloyal MPs that wouldn’t vote for UK Labour’s ideas all the time, and thereby potentially undermining a UK Labour Government. (This is of course also why they’re against Evel — if they can’t rely on Scottish MPs, they’re useless from their point of view.)
The only thing that will make them reconsider is if lots of Scottish Labour MPs lose their seats in May. If Miliband doesn’t become PM becomes his party was decimated in Scotland, UK Labour will start thinking that the only way forward is to give the Scottish party the autonomy it has craved for so long. Interestingly, this means that the only way to save Scottish Labour in the long term is by voting SNP in May.