Labour commission unveils 'profoundly underwhelming' plans for 'New Britain'

Gordon Brown headed up the panel which has proposed a 'New Britain' <i>(Image: PA)</i>
Gordon Brown headed up the panel which has proposed a 'New Britain' (Image: PA)

SWEEPING plans to reshape Britain’s economic and political landscape have been set out by Labour’s commission on the future of the UK.

Key recommendations from the panel include abolishing the “indefensible” House of Lords and more powers for devolved nations including Scotland - both ideas that have been floated several times in the past by Labour and not been delivered upon.

The commission - headed up by former prime minister Gordon Brown - has proposed replacing the unelected upper chamber with a “smaller more representative and democratic” assembly of the nations and regions, although details would be a matter for further consultation.

The plans were unveiled at a press conference in Leeds on Monday morning by Brown and Labour leader Keir Starmer.

Brown presented his commission’s findings as a response to the desire for change expressed by voters who supported Scottish independence.

He said: “Just as in 2016 a lot of people voted for Brexit because they thought that was their only chance of change, in 2014 a lot of people voted for [Scottish] independence because they thought that was the only change on offer.

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“We are changing that entirely today. We are breaking new ground.

“The ground on which the battle is fought in Scotland is changing forever because what we are saying is we are offering change within the UK that will benefit Scotland, as against change by leaving the UK, which we think will do damage to Scotland.

“That’s going to be the debate from now on in – not independence versus the status quo, but change within Britain versus change by leaving Britain.”

Brown added Labour would push forward with the plans even if they were rejected by Scots at the ballot box.

Asked whether a poor election performance could force a rethink of the proposals, Brown insisted: “This is going ahead if there is a Labour government.”

Starmer meanwhile insisted he was committed to redistributing power away from Westminster if he became prime minister.

The National: Keir Starmer will unveil the report with Gordon Brown at a press conference in Leeds on Monday
The National: Keir Starmer will unveil the report with Gordon Brown at a press conference in Leeds on Monday

Keir Starmer will unveil the report with Gordon Brown at a press conference in Leeds on Monday (Image: PA)

“It’s absolutely vital,” he said. “But I don’t see it as handing power away, I see it as putting power where it should be."

Starmer also told voters that the centre has “not delivered”. He said that the UK was “crying out for a new approach” as he suggested that Leave voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum wanted more control over their lives.

Here are some of the key recommendations from the panel: 

"Extra powers" for Scotland

Scotland would be able to enter into international agreements in relation to devolved matters, the status of MSPs would be bolstered, devolution would get greater constitutional protection and there would be enhanced access to economic support through the British Regional Investment Bank.

Wales meanwhile could get new powers over youth justice and probation, while constitutional protections for devolution and the rights of Members of the Senedd would be extended in a way similar to the Scottish proposals, along with access to British Regional Investment Bank funding.

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In Northern Ireland there is a desire for devolution to be “restored and strengthened”.

A new culture of co-operation between the UK Government and devolved nations

New, legally-mandated “councils of the nations and regions and of England” will replace the present joint ministerial committees.

The new bodies would include not just devolved administrations but local leaders from within England, to prevent the Government treating communities in a “high-handed way”.

Abolish the ‘indefensible’ House of Lords

The commission proposed replacing the unelected upper chamber with a “smaller, more representative and democratic” assembly of the nations and regions, although details would be matters for further consultation.

Clean up politics

The panel has proposed new rules for politicians and civil servants, clamping down on MPs’ second jobs and a “powerful” anti-corruption commissioner to root out criminal behaviour in British political life.

Create a ‘New Britain’

The commission has floated rebalancing the economy to drive up living standards in some of the most deprived areas and giving more local control over decision-making

The panel has called for a new constitutional law setting out how political power should be shared, with a requirement for decisions to be taken “as close as meaningfully possible” to the people affected by them.

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There would be an explicit requirement to rebalance the economy to spread prosperity and investment more equally across the UK.

The right to healthcare based on need rather than ability to pay would be enshrined in a set of protected social rights.

Creating new regional industrial clusters

Towns, cities and other areas would be brought together as part of a co-ordinated economic strategy.

Mayors and local leaders would play a key role in shaping the plans, with the UK Infrastructure Bank and a British Regional Investment Bank (a rebadged British Business Bank) supporting investment.

Some 50,000 civil service jobs would be transferred out of London.

What are leading pro-independence figures saying?

Tommy Sheppard, the SNP's constitution spokesperson at Westminster, shared his thoughts on the "profoundly underwhelming" proposals - which come after recent polling put support for Scottish independence at 52%.

"Labour have shied away from the biggest constitutional issue throughout the UK, with no reform to the antiquated first-past-the-post voting system. They appear content to continue an anti-democratic system where majority governments can be formed with a minority of votes," the MP wrote.

"They offer absolutely nothing new of substance to Scotland," he went on. "This was an opportunity to assert the Claim of Right for Scotland, confirming that Scots have the right to choose how they are governed. Sadly, Labour has bottled it."

Sheppard added that "we have heard it all before" on the pledge to scrap the Lords.

"Indeed, I’ve lost count of the number of times Labour manifestoes have promised reform to the unelected upper house," he said. "It’s another desperate attempt to get a hint of radicalism into what they’re saying."

The Edinburgh East MP added: "People will see through today’s announcement, realising that under Labour, not much will change"

The National:
The National:

SNP depute leader Keith Brown said it was "contemptuous" Labour plans to ignore what Scots if they reject the proposals.

He said: “After bigging it up for months and months, Gordon Brown has already undermined this report by saying Labour will ignore what the people of Scotland vote for if they reject Labour and impose theirs anyway. That is contemptuous. They are acting just like the Tories.

“It also shows they have disrespected their own promise in 2014 that power lay with the Scottish people to decide how Scotland is governed and it utterly humiliates Anas Sarwar by driving a coach and horses through his ‘principles’ for reform.

“Ironically, a report which claims to be about strengthening devolution in many cases actually looks set to undermine it. It’s just another Brownhog Day."

Meanwhile, the Scottish Greens were equally dismissive of Brown's plans.

Co-leader Patrick Harvie accused Brown of "reheating the failed ideas of the past", arguing that the report would not slow momentum for independence.

"It is clear that Labour is more concerned with making sure real power stays in Westminster, regardless of how people in Scotland vote," the minister said.

"The report does not live up to the urgency of the situation we are in or offer the bold and transformative change that is needed. The fact that it doesn't even include plans to finally change the undemocratic and unfair voting system that we use at Westminster election shows how uninspiring and limited it really is."

And Alex Salmond's Alba accused Brown of being "stuck in a Westminster 'time warp'".

"This report seeks to retain a London veto over Scotland’s right to choose its own future," said MP Neale Hanvey. "It is for that reason that it will be roundly rejected in Scotland where support for both independence and Scottish democracy is growing daily since the Supreme Court ruling."