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Labour Considering Cross-Department Ministers To Act As Scotland's "Window To The World"

Ian Murray is the Labour MP for Edinburgh South (Alamy)

4 min read

Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray has said Labour is considering introducing cross-departmental Scotland ministers to reform how Scotland is represented across the UK Government, as the party works to finalise its general election manifesto.

With a general election on the horizon and the polls showing Labour well in the lead ahead of the Conservatives, Murray has been tasked with refining Labour's offer to Scotland and he believes "cooperation" should be at the heart of it.

Murray, currently one of only two Labour MPs in Scotland, said if Labour get into power he would eventually like to see a greater number of ministers in the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and possibly also cross-departmental ministers who would ensure Scotland’s interests were being directly considered across a range of policy areas. He cited the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Business and Trade as examples of this that could be most productive.

“That window to the world is really important because Scottish growth is going to depend on exports, it's going to depend on championing the stuff that we do really well abroad," he said. 

"And that's going to be an incredibly important part of working with the Trade and the Foreign Office.”

Explaining that he would want the Scotland Office to “become a much more powerful, proactive department” and “get the sharp elbows out to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard”, he added that he believed there needed to be a “step-change” in both cross-government and cross-departmental working.

He added that he also wanted to see “local representatives at the heart of the next government standing up for Scotland”. The Scottish National Party, which has dominated politics north of the border, has suffered a difficult year, and many Labour figures hope this could lead to a large number of Scottish Labour MPs being elected later this year. 

“In our manifesto, we'll have some significant things that are transformational for the whole of the country, but more so for Scotland,” he said.

“GB Energy will be headquartered in Scotland, that's 50,000 jobs, that's a big transition away from fossil fuels. It's about using the Scottish infrastructure that we've already got to really push forward to decarbonisation by 2030.”

However, Murray warned that a quick delivery of a Labour manifesto in Scotland would depend on how effectively they could work with the incumbent SNP Scottish government. 

“We'll be working together, but it takes two to tango and if they don't want to dance, then the Scottish public will see that as being very much a barrier to change,” he said.

This week, the new First Minister and SNP leader John Swinney will tackle his inaugural First Ministers’ Questions, having been chosen as the unopposed successor to Humza Yousaf, who resigned after his decision to end a power-sharing deal with the Green Party sparked a furious reaction. 

First Minister John Swinney
First Minister John Swinney held his first Cabinet meeting last week (Alamy)

Scottish Labour figures, including recent by-election winner Michael Shanks, previously told PoliticsHome they viewed the chaotic fallout from the change in leadership as a “reset moment” to “throw out” assumptions around core voter groups in Scotland. 

Murray agreed, accusing the Tories and the SNP of spending too much time “fighting each other over the constitution”, while Scottish independence has slipped further down the list of Scottish voters’ concerns over the last few years. 

“So we need to put that to bed because it's not going to achieve anything,” he said.

Murray acknowledged that there is a "fundamental ideological difference" between Westminster and many in Holyrood on Scottish independence, but felt the "priorities of the Scottish people are not the constitution at the moment”.

“A lot of the drivers of people's curiosity towards independence are because of the Tory government here, the state of Westminster, all that kind of anti Westminster sentiment," he said. 

“Our strategy for 2024 is to win here [Westminster], to show that Labour can work very closely with devolved administrations of any colour, but certainly the Labour ones will achieve a lot more because they're on the same value set.

“Going into the 2026 Scottish parliamentary elections that will be very much a key component of it, looking at what we can do if we work together.”

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