Reset our politics

Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar standing side by side in front of change backdrop

How Labour will reset our politics:

  • A new Ethics and Integrity Commission to clean up politics at Westminster
  • Immediate reform to modernise the House of Lords
  • A reset of devolution and better co-operation between the UK and Scottish Government
  • A Scotland Office acting to promote Scotland within the UK and internationally

Over the last 14 years, trust in politics has been shattered. Partying in Downing Street while the whole country sacrificed their freedom. Handing lucrative Covid contracts to friends and donors. Failing to expel MPs caught breaking the rules. The behaviour of the Conservatives has understandably led to a widespread belief that many politicians are in it for themselves. As a result, there is now a crisis of confidence in our political system’s ability to deliver any change.

This is not limited to Westminster – in Scotland, the SNP has also failed to uphold the standards expected in public life. The scandals may be different, but the SNP has also sought to protect its own and failed to address the behaviour of its MPs and MSPs, from sexual harassment scandals to accusations of financial mismanagement and defending the inappropriate use of public expenses. The people of Scotland also deserve better from their representatives.

It is not just sleaze and scandal that have eroded trust. Just as corrosive has been the inability of politicians to keep promises made to the public. Over the last 14 years, the vast chasm between the slogans and solutions of the Conservative Party has shown an almost unprecedented contempt for democracy and serving the national interest. From claiming “we’re all in it together” while decimating public services, to the empty promises to “level up”, gimmicks and gestures have shamefully replaced the hard graft of governing. Similarly, the SNP has a long legacy of broken promises and failed commitments, all announced to get a headline but ditched when delivery became too difficult.

In contrast, Labour has been transformed from a party of protest to one that always puts the interests of the country first. Now we are determined to do the same with our politics, returning government to the service of working people. This will require a reset in our public life; a clean-up that ensures the highest standards of integrity and honesty. We will make sure elected representatives focus on serving their constituents. We will deepen our democracy by reforming both our UK and Scottish parliaments and devolving power to communities. And rather than stoking division – as do both the Conservatives and the SNP – we will ensure there is respect and collaboration in the interests of the Scottish people.

Setting the highest of standards in public life is not just about better behaviour or decision-making, though it will improve both. It is also central to restoring trust between the public and politics. This plan recognises that politics must make the first move in repairing that bond. After years of chaos, division and disrespect, it is completely understandable for the Scottish people to be cynical of any political appeal to come together in the national interest. But the challenges we face demand nothing less – it is the lifeblood of national renewal.

Key to rebuilding the trust of the people in politics is cleaning up Westminster. Labour will restore confidence in the UK government and ensure ministers are held to the highest standards. We will establish a new independent Ethics and Integrity Commission, with its own independent chair, to ensure probity in the UK government.

Labour will review and update post-government employment rules to end flagrant abuses seen under the Conservatives. This includes enforcing restrictions on ministers lobbying for the companies they used to regulate, with meaningful sanctions for breaching the rules. We will give the Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests the powers to start investigations into misconduct and ensure they have access to the evidence they need.

MPs work hard to serve their constituents but can be hamstrung by arcane procedures and outdated working practices. Labour will establish a new Modernisation Committee tasked with reforming House of Commons procedures, driving up standards, and improving working practices. The absence of rules on second jobs also means some constituents end up with MPs who spend more time on their second job, or lobbying for outside interests, than on representing them. As an initial step, Labour will support an immediate ban on MPs from taking up paid advisory or consultancy roles. We will task the Modernisation Committee to take forward urgent work on the restrictions that need to be put in place to prevent MPs from taking up roles that stop them serving their constituents and the country.

The task of cleaning up our politics also extends to Holyrood. It cannot be right that MSPs are held to a lower standard than the MPs representing us at Westminster. Scottish Labour has set out plans to reform the Scottish Parliament, banning second jobs, introducing the right to recall MSPs who have engaged in wrongdoing, splitting the dual role of the Lord Advocate, and establishing stronger sanctions for breaches of the Ministerial Code.

We will ensure members of the Scottish Parliament have the same free speech protections in the Scottish Parliament as those enjoyed by MPs, so elected representatives, whether in Westminster or Holyrood, can hold power to account.

Scottish Labour believe we also need to push power out of Holyrood and into the regions of Scotland to empower communities and better support regional economic growth. As well as a fairer funding formula for local government, Scottish Labour’s plans for reform within Scotland include a Local Democracy Act that will allow for the creation of regional mayors and support greater co-operation across regions.

The House of Lords is outdated, and not representative of the people it is supposed to serve. Although Labour recognises the good work of many peers who scrutinise the government and improve the quality of legislation passed in parliament, reform is long overdue and essential. Too many peers do not play a proper role in our democracy. Hereditary peers remain indefensible. And because appointments are for life, the second chamber of parliament has become too big.

The next Labour government will therefore bring about an immediate modernisation, by introducing legislation to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. Labour will also introduce a mandatory retirement age. At the end of the parliament in which a member reaches 80 years of age, they will be required to retire from the House of Lords.

Labour will ensure all peers meet the high standards the public expect of them, and we will introduce a new participation requirement as well as strengthening the circumstances in which disgraced members can be removed. We will reform the appointments process to ensure the quality of new appointments and will seek to improve the national and regional balance of the second chamber.

While this action to modernise the House of Lords will be an improvement, Labour is committed to replacing the House of Lords with an alternative second chamber that is more representative of the regions and nations. In government, UK Labour will consult on proposals, seeking the input of the public on how politics can best serve them.

A shot of the Scottish Parliament building in Holyrood, Edinburgh, across a pond.

Labour is committed to strengthening our democracy and upholding the integrity of elections. Rather than encouraging full participation in our democracy, the Conservatives have brought in partisan changes that make it harder to vote, while doing nothing to strengthen protections against foreign interference.

To encourage participation in our democracy, Labour will improve voter registration and address the inconsistencies in voter ID rules for UK elections that prevent legitimate voters from voting. For example, in the case of HM Armed Forces Veteran Cards. We will increase the engagement of young people in our vibrant democracy, by extending the right of 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in all elections, including all future UK general elections. And we will protect democracy by strengthening the rules around donations to political parties.

Labour is the party of devolution. It was a Labour government that oversaw the creation of the Scottish Parliament, but 14 years of the Conservatives in Westminster and 17 years of the SNP in Holyrood has seen devolution undermined and under attack. The Conservatives disrespect the legitimate role of devolved governments and parliaments, while the SNP finds ways to manufacture conflict and attempts to deflect blame for its poor record in government.

Labour will change this, resetting and renewing the devolution relationship. We will ensure the structures and institutions of intergovernmental working improve relationships and collaboration on policy. Labour will strengthen the Sewel Convention by setting out a new memorandum of understanding, outlining how the nations will work together for the common good.

We will renew opportunities for the Prime Minister and leaders of devolved governments to collaborate with each other. As recommended in the Report of the Commission on the UK’s future, we will establish a new Council of the Nations and Regions. This will bring together the Prime Minister, the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, the First and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and the Mayors of Combined Authorities.

The next UK Labour government will also ensure that UK-wide bodies are more representative of our nations and regions, this includes representation for Scotland on the Industrial Strategy Council, and Scottish skills bodies working jointly with the Migration Advisory Committee. UK trade negotiators will work with the Scottish government to promote our fantastic businesses and services internationally. Labour will restore decision-making over the allocation of structural funds to the representatives of Scotland. The planned investments in public services outlined in this manifesto by a UK government will also result in additional funding for Scotland.

Keir Starmer and Ian Murray in a room full of barrels

The people of Scotland deserve governments that are focused on delivering for them. With Labour, the Scotland Office will once again act as Scotland’s voice at the heart of the UK Government. It will have a key role for improving intergovernmental working and supporting the work of the Scottish Government at home and internationally.

Labour does not support independence or another referendum, but we know that after 14 years of the Conservatives, the people of Scotland need change. Labour will take a different approach in Scotland: we will protect and respect devolution and reset relations between governments so that politics once again delivers for working people. Labour will strengthen Scottish democracy and devolution, championing Scotland at home and abroad.

We will ensure the devolution settlement for Scotland also enables collaboration on UK Labour’s national missions for government. We will maintain the arrangements in the new Scottish fiscal framework.

A UK Labour government will have a more collaborative approach to the Scottish Government on its international engagement, not create conflict as the Conservatives and SNP have done. We recognise that within devolved competencies, the Scottish government has an important role to play in promoting Scotland internationally. In respect to wholly devolved issues, Labour will support the Scottish Government to partner with international bodies where relevant and appropriate, for example to collaborate on global health initiatives. The UK Government will retain full responsibility over foreign policy.

The Scotland Office will maximise Scotland’s influence, and with Labour it will once again become an advocate for Scotland, both at home and abroad. The Scotland Office will ensure the voice of Scotland is properly heard on issues under the competence of the UK Government. Scotland has an enviable international reputation. Its culture, products and services are internationally renowned – from whisky and salmon to computer game development, bioscience and financial services. Therefore, a UK Labour government will champion ‘Brand Scotland’ across the world through the Scotland Office, and our diplomatic and trade networks, to promote Scotland and its businesses.