Mark Drakeford and Gordon Brown launch new UK reform campaign
First Minister Mark Drakeford has joined with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and other leading Labour politicians to form a group that will campaign for radical constitutional reform of the UK.
The move offers hope that more powers will be devolved to the Senedd if Labour takes power following the next general election, expected next year.
Launched at an event in Edinburgh on Thursday evening, the Alliance for Radical Democratic Change also includes Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar
The group will call on political leaders from other parties and parts of the country to back their goal.
The launch comes six months after a report released by Mr Brown on the future of the UK recommended the abolition of the House of Lords and its replacement with an elected second chamber, as well as deeper devolution to the cities and regions of the UK.
Demand for change
In a joint mission statement, the group – launched in conjunction with Mr Brown’s think tank Our Scottish Future – said: “There is a UK-wide demand for change.
“We recognise the urgent need for working together – locally, regionally and nationally across the UK – to reform our constitution so we can deal with the current economic and social challenges faced in every area of our country.
“To that effect we are creating the Alliance for Radical Democratic Change to implement wide-ranging proposals for the reform of the UK – to end the centralisation of power in Whitehall and Westminster, to devolve effective economic and social powers to the regions and nations, to make our cities and regions centres of initiative for full employment and good jobs, and to ensure coordination between all levels of government to achieve a fairer, greener and wealthier Britain, in which each nation and region enjoys the respect it deserves.”
Speaking ahead of the event, Mr Drakeford said: “We need a new strengthened union which guarantees that no-one will find themselves unable to eat or relying on a food bank; facing old age or illness at the margins of society.
“A union which offers strong devolution for all parts of the UK; a union where all four nations are treated as equals.”
Mr Burnham said: “Just like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the north of England has suffered from an over-concentration of political and economic power in the South East of the UK.
“This is changing with the devolution of power out of Westminster, but in our experience it works best when it goes deep.
“Places in all parts of the UK should have the ability to build a better future from the bottom up and collaborate with neighbours.”
So far, however, there has been no agreement between Welsh Labour and UK Labour over the extent of the new powers to be devolved to Wales.
While Welsh Labour is in favour of devolving policing and the justice system, UK Labour has gone no further than suggesting the devolution of youth justice. And Swansea East MP Carolyn Harris, the deputy leader of Welsh Labour, has stated on a TV programme that she opposes the devolution of policing.
In an interview with the Guardian last week, Mr Drakeford called for a “solidarity union”, stressing that the purpose of constitutional change would be to see an improvement in living standards. Importantly, the union would become a confederation of equal partners, not dominated by England.
While remaining a unionist, Mr Drakeford has warned that the future of the UK will be in doubt if the approach towards the devolved nations adopted when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister continues. The Welsh and Scottish governments have been aggrieved by a series of “power grabs”, as they see it, by Westminster since Brexit, exemplified by the UK Government’s decision to control the allocation of regional aid funds, in contrast to the arrangements that were in place while the UK was an EU member state.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s independence minister urged Mr Brown to apologise to the people of Scotland, claiming the promises he made alongside then prime minister David Cameron and deputy PM Nick Clegg in the lead up to the 2014 referendum have not been kept.
In a statement released ahead of the Edinburgh rally, Jamie Hepburn said Mr Brown had “made promises that would have made even snake-oil salesmen blush”.
He said Mr Brown “could not have been clearer that if people in Scotland voted against independence, in his own words, that ‘we’re going to be, within a year or two, as close to a federal state as you can be’.”
The SNP MSP said since the independence vote in 2014, Scotland has been “dragged out of the EU against our will” and has seen the powers of the Scottish Parliament come “under attack like never before”.
Earlier Mr Drakeford met Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf in Edinburgh. The two leaders urged the UK Government to consistently respect devolution and live up to the principles of mutual respect, trust, effective communication and accountability, as set out in the Inter-Governmental Relations Review.
They also discussed the urgent need for the UK Government to end repeated breaches of the Sewel Convention – under which Westminster can pass legislation affecting the whole of the UK with the consent of the devolved parliaments, and engage in good faith in Common Frameworks, designed to manage different policy approaches across the UK following Brexit.
The two First Ministers agreed they would continue to work closely to protect devolution.
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