What is radical federalism, what would it look like and should Labour back it?

Sienna Rodgers

What is radical federalism, what would it look like and should Labour champion it? This is what Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin, Welsh Labour’s Mick Antoniw MS and Professor Nicola McEwen discussed this week at a panel event by LabourList and UK in a Changing Europe.

Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar said: “Whether we call it radical federalism or not, let’s push for further devolution, not as some kind of quick political fix, but because we mean it and we are truly the champions of devolution.”

He warned people against seeing Scotland “as some kind of monolith” where “all the views are the same in all parts of Scotland”, when in fact “we actually need to push power out of Holyrood into local communities”.

He said Scottish Labour’s position on the constitution should not be seen as a “compromise”, saying: “If we present it as a compromise, then I think it won’t feel like we’re truly arguing for something because we truly believed it or we thought it was going to make a meaningful difference.”

Sarwar shared his view that Labour has a “culture issue” around devolution, factionalism and defeatism. “If there’s any factional bullshit, keep it out of Scotland. We’ve got enough problems of our own,” he told the event.

“If you want to do factionalism, do it somewhere else, not Scotland. And if you want to factionalism elsewhere, keep the constitution out of it, because the only people that helps is our opposition.”

Tracy Brabin, the Labour mayor of West Yorkshire first elected in May, said: “I’m very excited about devolution, I know it’s going to be fundamental for our party’s future as we rebuild trust.”

She explained “When I talk about strangers in Whitehall and Westminster making decisions about people in West Yorkshire’s lives, not knowing or understanding them, actually that could be said too for some colleagues in the Labour Party.”

In response to a question on an English parliament, she said: “Honestly, this is not what the people of Yorkshire are wanting from me.” She added that “this is not going to be a priority for me at this moment” and she would prefer to talk about “the powers mayors could potentially be campaigning for”.

Brabin, who is on the board of Labour’s constitutional commission headed by Gordon Brown, said the former Prime Minister is “talking about having a representation for the regional mayors in the House of Lords”, which she described as “quite exciting”.

Mick Antoniw, the MS for Pontypridd, the Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution who is part of the ‘Radical Federalism’ collective, also spoke. He will soon be overseeing a constitutional commission in Wales, to launched within the coming weeks.

“I actually think we have across the UK a crisis in our democracy – when 40% of people don’t vote in general elections. 50% don’t vote in Welsh parliamentary elections, and 60% don’t vote in council elections,” the Senedd Member said.

Antoniw discussed “redefining what the role of Westminster is”, suggesting that “one of the key issues that has to be resolved is the centralisation of power” and concluding that “we need to start looking seriously at a bill of rights”.

Nicola McEwen, a senior fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe, offered her views on the difference between federalism and confederalism, a ‘Senate of the Regions and Nations’ as proposed by Gordon Brown, whether federalism would require a referendum and much more.

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