Big changes proposed for UK Party and what does it mean for Scottish Labour

You may well have missed the opportunity for members to discuss the constitutional changes that look like being presented to the UK special conference – that’s because they hasn’t been one. Openness and transparency apparently don’t go as far as allowing CLP’s to discuss and mandate their delegates. Not that many will bother to attend the aircraft hanger in London Docklands anyway.

So what do we know about the likely proposals. We have Ed Miliband’s piece in the Guardian and a helpful ’10 things you need to know’ on Labour List. The mainstream media’s grasp of how Labour and the trade unions work at present is woeful – as even the BBC and Guardian coverage shows. The demise of the industrial correspondent is painfully obvious this week.

The headline is of course the abolition of the electoral college and its replacement by a form of OMOV that devalues the point of being a full member. I suspect the trade unions will take the view that the current system was hugely expensive for them to administer (for only limited influence) and the cash can be better used elsewhere. Not necessarily with the Labour Party. The real risk is that most trade union members, whose collective voice is to be diminished by the other changes, will also take the view that the Labour Party isn’t interested in their views. The drift to trade unions using their political funds primarily for campaigns, will accelerate. Meanwhile, the millionaires cash will continue to buy up the Labour Party.

One of the most contentious issues is the 20% or 25% parliamentary threshold. Mark Ferguson on Labour List argues that this is necessary to ensure that the Leader has at least a political base in the PLP. However, Jon Lansman on Left Futures points out that this would mean only four contested elections in Labour’s history. The leaders patronage means that MPs herd behind the likely winner. As Jon Lansman puts it:

“You might remove MPs from an electoral college and have OMOV in theory, but you’ll have more coronations than elections and never more than two candidates. We are already uncomfortably close to an elected dictatorship in the Labour Party. We don’t want a monarchy.”

If all this goes through, the next issue is what will happen in Scotland? The Scottish Labour Party now decides its rules for the election of Leader and Deputy Leader, so it is not obliged to follow the mess Ed Miliband’s advisors got him into. Timing is another consideration. A rule change can only be proposed at this year’s Scottish Labour Party conference, if it is tabled by the SEC and the time scale for doing that is very tight. SEC on the 8th March, one week after the UK special conference, then SLP conference on 21-23 March. The SEC might reasonably decide that, unlike the UK Party, some further consultation is required.