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Labour is finally moving forwards

IT has been a very long time coming, but suddenly Labour looks interesting again.

Ed Miliband's headline proposal at the party conference to freeze energy bills has seen him reborn - as least in Labour eyes - as a vote-winning champion of consumer rights, and cast the Conservatives as the defenders of crippling household bills.

More than just a cute electoral bribe, the underlying principle - that the state should intervene to protect the public from a rapacious market - seems almost a heresy in the post-Thatcher, post-Blair Labour Party.

Besides signalling a leftward shift and a break with New Labour orthodoxy, judging by the alarmist jabber from Conservatives about black-outs and a return to the 1970s, it may also mark the moment that Labour plotted a winning course for the 2015 General Election. Interesting things are afoot in Scotland, too.

As we report today, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has arranged for her MSPs to be briefed on the Common Weal vision promoted by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation.

Her initiative is to be welcomed. Common Weal advocates cherry-picking economic and social policies from the Nordic countries to make Scotland a wealthier, fairer society.

Until now, it has been largely the preserve of the pro-independence movement, but its authors have always argued that some - although obviously not all - of its ideas could be implemented under a system of enhanced devolution, with greater tax powers being the key.

A change in the economic model would then lead to more progressive social policies, with the overarching aim of reducing inequality.

A core element is an expanded welfare state with universal cradle-to-grave services, in which welfare is regarded as mutual support delivered via the state, not simply as handouts.

That Lamont would even sit though a talk on Common Weal seems remarkable given her speech a year ago in which she declared Scotland could not be the only "something-for-nothing country" in the world, and announced a review of universal public services.

It is far to early to judge if she has undergone a Miliband-style conversion, or whether her interest in Common Weal is simply a political manoeuvre to reclaim some of the centre-left ground the SNP has recently occupied.

Her party says there is no contradiction between giving Common Weal an audience, and a review into the services Scotland can afford.

As Common Weal is predicated on more ambitious devolution, Labour's interest could help the party devise its offer in the event of a No vote in the independence referendum.

It is high time the party set out a detailed plan for a post-referendum Scotland. Its refusal to do so makes the choice facing Scottish voters in the referendum particularly stark.

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