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Labour's Scottish problems reveal the weaknesses of centralisation

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The Labour party’s Scottish problems worsen. 

They lost a substantial chunk of their traditional vote in the recent referendum. The SNP are ahead of them in a UK general election voting intention poll carried out by the online research firm Panelbase this month.  

Normally, Labour has a higher vote share in Scotland than across Britain. Now, the party in Scotland is underperforming the nationwide figure. 

Last weekend the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont, resigned because of the decision by the national leadership in London to sack the Scottish general secretary. 

Former Labour first minister Henry McLeish said there had been “a suffocating atmosphere of control that Westminster have been trying to put on Scotland”.

The ‘major’ Westminster political parties know no other way of doing things. The day before Ms Lamont stood aside, the press was reporting that the Treasury would not be proposing any tax-raising powers for city regions, because this might lead to ‘unhelpful tax competition’ between areas.   

Scotland and Wales, of course, will be given the freedom to set taxes and thus compete with neighbouring England, while Northern Ireland may enjoy a corporation tax cut. 

In fairness, we must wait till the autumn statement to see what Mr Osborne offers the cities. But past performance would suggest the Treasury will want to keep control of 100% of all council spending, particularly because worsening public finances will require local authority spending to be cut significantly further after 2015-16.

One thing Labour and the Conservatives have in common is that they are both in unstoppable long-term decline. Recent polls show them with combined support of just 66% of the electorate. 

It would be simplistic to believe that hyper-centralisation is the main reason for this. But when it comes to explaining the lack of connection between voters and the Westminster political class, the Whitehall-centric way of making decisions must be among the causes.

Trying to run the Scottish Labour Party from SW1 will not end well. Nor will the continuing decision to continue to make all tax-raising decisions for England just across the street. 

We will just have to wait for the dreadful denouement to the tragedy which is the decline of the ‘major’ parties.    

Tony Travers is director of the Greater London group at the London School of Economics

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