Mind the gap: What are the policy differences between UK and Scottish Labour?


What are the difference between the Scottish and UK Labour parties in #GE17?

THE SCOTTISH AND UK Labour parties go into the 8 June General Election uncomfortably straddling the major ideological fault lines in the party.

Scottish party leader Kezia Dugdale has been an opponent of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK party, and although the left has made advances in the Scottish party in recent months, their General Election pitch remains markedly different from the left populism on display in England.

CommonSpace looks at the differences between Labour’s UK and Scottish manifestos.

National investment bank

For the first time in decades, the UK Labour manifesto has broken with mainstream economic orthodoxy, with a plan for significant new public spending.

This comes as a boon for the Scottish party which is able to promise its share of £250bn worth of capital investment over 10 years.

At the heart of this will be plans for a Scottish national investment bank worth £20bn, to invest in small businesses vulnerable to corporate domination and struggling for loans.


Both the UK and Scottish manifestoes are unequivocal that Labour will not support a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Instead, both manifestos promise a constitutional convention to look into various levels of democratic representation across the UK.

Outside of manifesto territory, different noises are being made. While Corbyn has repeatedly stated he does not view it as his place to block a future vote on Scottish independence and recently said he would “open discussions” with the Scottish Government on a second referendum, Dugdale has maintained a much more immovable opposition, refusing even to discuss the prospects of a second referendum.


The renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system is unpopular in today’s labour party. Corbyn is a lifelong opponent of nuclear weapons, and Scottish Labour took the historic step of voting to oppose renewal of the system based on the Clyde in 2015.

It is a testament to how divided Labour remains then that Trident renewal remains in both UK and Scottish manifestos. In the UK manifesto, this is qualified by the promise of a complete strategic defence and security review, under which renewal would presumably be challenged.

In the Scottish manifesto, the review is not mentioned, renewal is simply supported without reference to the party’s democratic decision to oppose renewal.


Scottish Labour’s pitch for education is substantially more conservative than the UK party’s plans for a “national education system”.

Scottish Labour’s manifesto focuses on education in Scotland, which is devolved and not directly impacted in this election. None the less, it provides a window into policy thought in the two parties.

UK Plans include a comprehensive system of subsidies for care and education services for early years’ education. Scottish Labour’s plans are restricted to extending childcare and new breakfast clubs in schools.

The UK manifesto also pledges to put a halt to plans to expand the number of academies. These are schools which are funded directly from central government, rather than through local authorities. This measure is not discussed in the Scottish manifesto, despite free schools gaining a burgeoning presence in Scotland.

The UK manifesto focuses on cancelling fees for higher education; Scottish university students already don’t pay fees. The Scottish manifesto also includes a clause to prevent young people leaving school for zero hours contracts being treated as a ‘positive destination’.

Social security

As mentioned, the Scottish Labour manifesto covers some areas that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Some consider campaigning on areas not covered in an election to be in poor faith, though parties often argue it is right for them to discuss such substantial areas of policy as are now devolved in any political campaign.

Curiously, one key area of recently devolved powers not discussed is the new Scottish social security system. Though the manifesto takes credit for new powers that will cover around 15 per cent of welfare spending, particularly those related to security payments for the sick and disabled, it does not offer any prospectus on what this system should look like. The Scottish Government, which recently conducted a consultation into the new system, has outlined some priorities, such as reducing punitive parts of the system.

Social security is very much the buzz-phrase in other parts of UK policy, where Labour promises to end the sanctions regime, scrap the bedroom tax and fend off attempts to make people work longer before receiving a pension.

Read more – What you need to know about Labour’s leaked manifesto

Picture: Facebook/Pauline Wheat-Bowen

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