LABOUR’S General Election loss in December has caused enormous soul-searching for the party. But with the leadership contest now well underway, it is striking how little attention has been paid so far to Scotland. Labour has been reduced to a single MP in Scotland, falling to a distant third place in the popular vote. For a party that once commanded an overwhelming lead in the country, this is an extraordinary decline. As a party, we must learn the lessons, and listen to what Scotland is telling us. It is time for a change of direction for Labour, both north and south of the border.

I’m standing for leader of the Labour Party because I believe we can win the next election, but we need to radically change as a party to get there. We know that the policies Labour presented, from ending austerity to public ownership were popular – indeed, since the election it is striking how much Labour’s economic programme of regional investment the Conservative Government is parroting. We know that after a decade of austerity cuts we need a major shift in our economic direction. And we know that the public share our alarm at the climate crisis, as the appalling scenes from the Australian bushfires drive the message home, and want to see action now.

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Yet we have failed to break through and turn this nascent support into an ability to win government. Too many post-mortems have focused on relatively superficial explanations: for some, it was Jeremy Corbyn; for others, it was Brexit. But the decline in support is common to social democratic parties across Europe and losses in the northern England “heartland” have been in decline for decades, with Labour losing four million votes under Tony Blair between 1997 and 2005.

So we have to look deeper for the explanations. Forty years of neoliberal economic policies have seen good jobs lost, never to return, and once proud communities left on the scrapheap. The institutions of the labour movement itself – from trade unions to the labour clubs – have withered, and whilst Labour in government had many achievements, it did not do enough to deliver investment where it was most needed. It is no wonder that so many took the opportunity to vote to leave the EU, kicking against what they saw as an indifferent Westminster elite. For Labour to rebuild, it needs not only to offer the right economic policies for government, but also address that fundamental lack of voice through thorough constitutional reform – scrapping the House of Lords, creating English regional assemblies, and introducing proportional representation, for a start.

The same dynamic has been at play in Scotland. For decades, Scotland suffered under Conservative governments elected primarily with English votes, whilst the experience of austerity, imposed by Westminster governments that Scotland did not elect, has simply reinforced the problem. It is little surprise then, that many Scots see themselves not as partners in a union of equal nations, but as a country shackled instead to a dysfunctional political system that is costing them dearly.

Given the option to exit the UK, it is little wonder that so many now support independence and given the prospect of at least five years of Tory rule imposing a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for, the question of independence and a second referendum is unavoidable.

In the words of the 1989 Scottish Constitutional Convention, supported by Labour MPs, I believe “in the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.” It is not for me, as an English MP for an English constituency, to dictate to Scotland what that form of government should be, and there should be no question of Labour opposing a second independence referendum if there is a mandate to hold one. It remains my conviction, nonetheless, that radical federalism, with the maximum possible autonomy for Scotland would provide the best solution for all the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. This is because my politics is driven by a belief in building alliances and whether in the UK or in Europe, I believe we are stronger when we work together. But I want to be part of a union where everyone feels heard and their needs are accounted for. We have to be honest and admit that this simply isn’t the case at the moment.

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Nor should any English party dictate to the Scottish. Scottish Labour, like Welsh Labour, should have full autonomy from the English – free to decide their views on fundamental questions like support for independence, acting as a Labour Party for Scotland, not only a Labour Party in Scotland. I believe the SNP’s record in the Scottish Government demands a strong, socialist, Scottish Labour opposition, as does their pro-austerity Growth Commission vision for independence. But where we can find common points of unity in opposing the Tories, both north and south of the border, and where we can work together, we should. Modern politics has to be about pluralism and collaboration. The Labour Party must ditch its futile tribalism and modernise, or it will die.

Scotland may choose independence, and should that happen those of us in the rest of the UK will continue to learn from and work with each other, in a new relationship. But Scotland’s story is also part of our shared history as a union – and Labour’s own history is unimaginable without Scottish Labour and the Scottish labour movement. For that shared history to continue, however, we have to have a union people want to belong to.

What I hope for, out of the turmoil that we can all foresee in the next few years, is that we – England, Wales, Scotland – can emerge as a new federation of nations: freer than before, more democratic, more equal, and more at ease with ourselves and our place in the world.