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Ed Miliband brings a new commitment to devolution

As the Scottish Labour Conference opened in Oban this morning, Ed Miliband brings a new — and genuine — commitment to devolution. If there’s too great an emphasis within Labour on centralisation, it now seems to lie north of the border.

Unlike his two predecessors, Miliband says he’s “relaxed” about differences of view between Leaders and their parties in Scotland and England — “unlike 10 years ago when Labour leaders were unrelaxed. Tony Blair never really supported devolution, other than a way of preventing independence: although he was forced to enact the commitment he inherited from John Smith, he was never willing to tolerate differences of policy between Holyrood and Westminster.  Nor was Brown much keener on such differences as prime minister, although as a Scottish MP he was perhaps more entitled to his view.

Blair’s view was made explicit in his autobiography, My Journey, in which he wrote:

I was never a passionate devolutionist. It is a dangerous game to play. You can never be sure where nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins… I supported the UK, distrusted nationalism as a concept and looked at the history books and worried whether we could get it through. However, though not passionate about it, I thought it inevitable. We didn’t want Scotland to feel the choice was status quo or separation.

Though Ed Miliband would not be drawn into criticism of Iain Gray, the continuing presence of New Labour is ironically more obvious north of the border. The willingness of Gray to cap council tax rises, for example, following a similar policy to that of the SNP since it took power at Holyrood, suggests a less than total commitment to devolution within Scotland. It means that local authorities will have less room to manoeuvre in response to cuts in funding.

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