This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter

Sir Keir Starmer is setting his sights on turning seats red north of the Border at next year’s general election en route to Downing Street – but the Labour leader appears to be done with Scottish devolution.

As Holyrood looks back on almost a quarter of a century of devolution, a key Labour pledge the last time the party swept to power in Westminster, Sir Keir seems content that Scotland has had its fill of devolution.

In the highly-anticipated and underwhelming blueprint for devolution, set out by former prime minister Gordon Brown in Edinburgh last December, there was little to boost powers for Scotland for an incoming Labour government.

But Mr Brown’s work did lay potential avenues for a Labour government to ramp up devolved powers to Holyrood if the party wants to.

Mr Brown’s strategy suggested that Scottish ministers could have borrowing limits increased and extra protections to ensure the UK Government does not undermine devolution.

It also touted Holyrood gaining extra powers to join some international schemes such as Erasmus while control over job centres could be localised.

The plan also pointed to elected mayors in Scotland and pushing more powers to councils.

But the details for Scotland do not appear to have made it into Sir Keir’s vision – giving little confidence that they will be implemented anytime soon, if at all.

The impression given out is that if Sir Keir avoids a catastrophe and becomes the next prime minister, Holyrood could miss out on a new era of devolution, with parts of England dragged up to match Scotland.

He told the Labour conference in Manchester that councils and combined authorities in England would get more control over housing, planning, energy and transport – matching the authority of leaders in London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.

Sir Kier said that “if we want to challenge the hoarding of potential in our economy then we must win the war against the hoarders in Westminster” pledging to “give power back and put communities in control.”

It is true that parts of England are in need of devolved power where Scotland, Wales and to a lesser extent, North Ireland, have been boosted.

In fairness, some of the questions around devolution in Scotland are more for Anas Sarwar ahead of the 2026 Holyrood election.

The Scottish Labour leader has suggested he “likes the model of mayors” north of the Border – an avenue that was given his Labour colleagues Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan high-profile and popular roles in England’s cities.

But there are key arguments to be made for a UK Government under Labour to expand devolution for Scotland as part of the party’s wider constitutional vision for the United Kingdom.

Yes, the Scottish Parliament is arguably one of the most powerful devolved institutions in the world, despite its obvious flaws including a rather weak committee system unable to properly hold the Government to account.

Strong arguments have been made for employment law to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

But Angela Rayner has already ruled out this move, despite appeals from trade union voices in support of it.

Labour’s reluctance to extend devolution for Scotland could be down to several factors – the most obvious being that there is no need to.

The SNP’s plan for separation is on life support and the route to independence is pretty-much non-existent – dependent on the UK Government recognising a de-facto referendum as a mandate for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. 

So unlike the infamous “vow” made on the eve of the 2014 referendum to hand Scotland more devolved power, politically, Labour doesn’t need to go further with the future of the Union appearing in pretty healthy nick.

But Labour potentially risks taking Scotland for granted.

Despite the party’s thumping victory at last week’s Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election, it is by no means certain that Labour will match that margin of success in other battles with the SNP next year.

For one, not every seat will have a pantomime villain in the shape of Covid rulebreaker Margaret Ferrier to set upon.

On the back of the by-election victory, Labour will be confident that Scottish seats can be meaningful in Sir Keir trying to tally up a majority to form a government at Westminster.

But the party might want to be wary over the argument Scotland missing out on further devolution – when the optics will be on further powers for parts of northern England, the famed “red wall”.

Labour is going against the public mood in Scotland by largely supporting Brexit and trying to make it work – instead appealing to former party voters and Brexiteers in northern England – and the same strategy is arguably at play on devolution.

But Labour might want to think twice if it is relying on the demise of the SNP to boost support in Scotland in the same way it appears to be milking the chaos surrounding the Tories south of the Border.

There is still potentially a long way to go before the next general election and relying on the slump in support for others and offering little themselves, could come back to bite Labour.

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