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We are on the cusp of something extraordinary

Britain is at a crucial political juncture, with a real chance to turn the tide on austerity, says Scottish Labour leader RICHARD LEONARD

SCOTLAND is at a crossroads. Four years after the SNP all but wiped out its opposition in Scotland’s constituencies in the Commons, and two years after Labour began its electoral recovery north of the border, we are back on the campaign trail.

Not that we ever left it: Scottish Labour swiftly moved to reselect candidates following the last general election — rightly so, as many of Labour's most viable gains are in Scotland. 

Our community organisers have been holding “listening” events to ensure we win back the trust of former Labour voters and gain the support of young people energised by the mass movements — such as the inspiring climate strikes and tenants’ unions — defining our age. 

So what is the choice facing Scotland? It’s fair to predict that this autumn will go down in history as a defining and pivotal moment for Britain’s constitutional settlement. 

In proroguing Parliament, Boris Johnson has upset the delicate settlement of Britain’s uncodified constitution. 

It is increasingly apparent that Johnson would be happy to tear up the UK for the sake of clinging onto power, and aligning the remnants of the country formerly known as Great Britain with Donald Trump’s White House. 

Ruth Davidson, meanwhile, told us there was an alternative conservatism that was kind and progressive: while still backing the rape clause, backing Theresa May, the minister in charge of the hateful “Go home or face arrest campaign” and the crushing programme of austerity. But now even the facade has disintegrated.

The SNP’s con trick is not dissimilar. Scotland’s government is held up as a beacon of liberal and progressive values, in contrast to the cruelty and self-interest of the Tories. 

The reality is far from this. The SNP has passed on Tory cuts to our health service and refused to exercise the powers it has to lift the two-child benefit cap and horrific “rape clause.” 

In the case of local government services, budgets have declined at four times the rate at the Scottish national level — meaning the SNP are effectively quadrupling Tory cuts.

Though the SNP blames Westminster, its own blueprint for independence makes clear that this small-c conservative vision would accelerate in the event of independence. 

The so-called Sustainable Growth Commission report in fact advocates policies which would lead to a decade of austerity. 

This is a party which would take austerity-fuelled independence over socialism any day of the week.

Both Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon want us to think their nationalist prescriptions are the only choices. And they attack Labour with more vitriol than ever before, because they know that, more than ever before, we are offering a credible challenge to their false dichotomy.

For Scottish Labour is now proposing a radical agenda for a new constitutional settlement — and crucially, to use this to empower workers and communities. 

We want to abolish the House of Lords. But that is not an end in itself — it is only the beginning. 

It would present a prime opportunity to establish a senate of nations and regions, which could act as the constitutional glue for a more federal UK.

We will demand new borrowing powers for Scotland’s Parliament and government, and we will use these to end the role of profiteers in our public services — whether that’s the private finance initiative or the SNP’s rebadging of it.

And we will not seek to simply transfer powers from Westminster to Holyrood. I also want to see decentralisation in Scotland. 

I am calling for stronger local government, for more powers to be given to local communities to take over land, an issue which our Scottish Parliament started to tackle but has since stalled over.

We need the shift the the balance of power between landlords and tenants, between employers and workers and between men and women.

People have become alienated from the political process. But we are on the cusp of something extraordinary.  

Labour offers a truly radical transformative government. This is the first opportunity in more than a generation to transform and turbocharge Scotland’s economy and turn back the tide on the inequality which has kept growing in this country since 1979. 

We can do this north and south of the border, but not in one without the other.

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