You had to wait for it, but Keir Starmer did eventually address the Scottish question in his speech to the Labour conference.

Were there blithe promises of more goodies for an acquisitive Holyrood? No: it was rather more thought-through than that.

What we got instead was an acknowledgement of what he called “the challenge of change” – the need to address Scottish people’s ongoing dissatisfaction with the status quo – and a pitch for solidarity between working people across the UK.

That, he said, was “our argument for Britain”. It was “an old partnership, perhaps”, but it was “a flame reignited to face a modern age of insecurity”.

So what does that actually mean?

When you step away from the conference hall and look at Labour’s thinking on constitutional change, there are signs, for once, of a plan to tackle power imbalances in Britain as a whole instead of in piecemeal fashion.

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The Scottish constitutional question is rarely talked about in that context, but it probably should be.

The imbalances are extreme. The UK is the most centralised state in Europe and has drastic regional inequalities. Academic research indicates that around half of the UK population live in areas as badly off as the poorer parts of the former East Germany.

It tells you something that the clamour for more economic and political power in the last three years has come as much from English towns and regions as from Scotland.

It makes little sense to bemoan the power imbalance between Scotland and Westminster without reference to these other neglected parts of the UK.

Labour’s proposals seek to make power in Britain less lop-sided and London-centric, devolving much more of it away from Westminster to the nations, towns and regions.

The aim, rightly, is to make sure the opportunities and rewards within Britain are much more fairly distributed at a time when London gets double the infrastructure spend per head than the UK average and gobbles up 45 per cent of private investment.

Much of this thinking comes from Labour’s Commission on the UK’s Future, set up by Starmer and chaired by Gordon Brown.

So will it be enough to counter the quixotic appeal of Scottish independence and tip the scales further in favour of the Union? Perhaps. That depends both on how far Labour is willing to go and how well they can market their plan.

What is done to improve the political voice of Derby or Redcar may not seem terribly relevant from the vantage point of Glasgow or Wick, but it does have an impact.

It underlines what has too often been lost, that Scots are not alone in feeling ignored and powerless within the UK and that therefore the solution might not necessarily be for Scotland to leave the UK but for fairer devolution of power UK-wide.

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What’s more, the inequality of a union in which Scotland fights for parity with a much larger, highly centralised English state, has made it difficult to discuss constitutional reform options that aren’t independence. How can Scotland ever be an equal partner with such a behemoth, people wonder.

But if the English regions and localities took power away from Westminster, growing in economic and political confidence, and perhaps finding common cause on occasion with Holyrood and Cardiff, then Westminster would cease to be so overmighty.

The unfairness of modern Britain has understandably pushed many Scottish voters towards independence; tackling that unfairness has to be the starting point for any party wishing to save the Union.

Labour are not proposing regional assemblies but they are proposing that councils, or groups of councils, would have considerably more power and economic clout.

“If we want to challenge the hoarding of potential in our economy then we must win the war against the hoarders in Westminster,” Keir Starmer said on Tuesday.

And Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has called for less hoarding at Holyrood too, after years of creeping centralisation. He wants more power for local councils over economic development and transport infrastructure. He even wants Scottish metro mayors (metro provosts?).

But the most comprehensive plan comes from Gordon Brown’s Commission.

“Our approach is: as much autonomy as possible, as much cooperation as necessary,” declared the Commission.

If enacted in full, its recommendations would represent a massive reset in the balance of power within the UK. Presenting them alongside Brown last year, Starmer said he “fundamentally” believed such change was necessary and the proposals would now be consulted on before the Labour manifesto was drawn up.

The Commission believes it should be a legal requirement for decisions to be made as close as possible to the people affected by them and wants a “constitutional requirement” to rebalance the UK’s economy.

It calls for the strengthening of the Sewel Convention, broadened powers for the Scottish government and perhaps above all, a reformed second chamber at Westminster called the Assembly of the Nations and Regions, charged with safeguarding the institutions of self-government.

A revitalised Scotland within a rebalanced UK: Labour’s task will be to sell that idea.

But it won’t be easy, given the endless SNP refrain that devolution is broken and always second best to independence.

The biggest danger is probably this: that Labour pare back the proposals, perhaps by ducking, or postponing, Lords reform. There is opposition within Labour to creating anything that might challenge the primacy of the Commons and there are fears that taking this on without cross-party support could damage Labour during its first term. Anas Sarwar believes the broader devolution plans should not wait for Lords reform.

But by not creating a chamber that to represent Scotland, Wales and the regions – by removing as it were the cake at the centre of the spread – what’s left will be less enticing. It will be harder to sell Labour’s constitutional reform package as a hefty alternative to independence.

Independence is a powerful idea to sell, but so is making Britain fairer. A comprehensive plan to devolve power away from Westminster and share economic opportunity throughout the country, with a Assembly of the Nations and Regions at its heart, could win the imagination of voters.

Labour can do something with that – but they must hold their nerve.