Corbyn’s lead constitutional reformer moves party towards federalism and Lords overhaul at ERS event

Posted on the 9th March 2019

Baroness Bryan launches key policy document at ERS fringe which backs ‘progressive federalism’ and a ‘totally’ reformed second chamber, as unreleased polling shows overwhelming cross-party support for elected upper house. 

The Scottish peer appointed by Jeremy Corbyn to help develop the party’s policy on federalism and constitutional reform has called for ‘total reform’ of the House of Lords and a ‘new relationship’ between Scotland and Westminster, in a paper that kicks off the party’s review of its constitutional policy.

Baroness (Pauline) Bryan of Partick was appointed to the House of Lords by Jeremy Corbyn in 2018, on condition of campaigning for abolition and replacement of the second chamber [1]. She was designated the lead for updating the party’s policy on federalism and Lords reform.

Now, for the first time, she is launching her initial proposals for change to the party, in a briefing for the ERS at Scottish Labour conference [2]. The document takes the party much closer to backing full federalism and abolition/replacement of the Lords. The new arrangement would be underpinned by a clear, codified constitution.

It comes as previously unreleased polling for the ERS shows that, when ‘don’t knows’ are excluded, support for an elected upper chamber sits at 71% for SNP voters and 65% for Conservatives across Britain – suggesting Lords reform could be a vote winner for the party [3]. A majority of all main parties’ supporters back an elected second chamber.

The Bryan Paper – published by the Red Paper collective [4] and launched at the ERS’ fringe – demands a ‘partnership’ model for Westminster and Scotland, backed up by a reformed second chamber for the nations and regions.

Baroness Bryan’s makes six key points for the Labour Party regarding devolution and democracy:

  1. “The UK’s Constitution has developed in an ad hoc way resulting in a patchwork of different institutions and powers covering different parts of the UK.
  2. Local government in Scotland has lost powers to increasing centralisation by the Scottish Government.
  3. The Scottish Parliament has gained additional powers in response to political pressures, but these can be curtailed as easily as they were granted.
  4. Brexit will result in the repatriation of powers but the UK government is reserving some powers that would usually be devolved.
  5. The House of Lords must be totally reformed. One option is to replace it with a Chamber of the Nations and Regions which is elected and accountable.
  6. The future relationship between the Holyrood and Westminster should be based on partnership and not hierarchy.”

The new federal set-up will ‘move from the existing model, where power is devolved from the central state to Scotland’.

It argues: “It should instead be a relationship of shared power based on partnership, not hierarchy. Under this arrangement there must be common minimum standards across the UK on human rights, employment rights, consumer protection and environmental protection and that the Scottish Parliament should have the power to enhance but never detract from these minimum standards.”

The peer adds: “The point is to change the relationship so that the Scottish Parliament is no longer subordinate to Westminster. A second chamber of the Regions and Nations would change the nature of the relations to shared government on the cross territorial issues.”

UK-wide, “Instead of the House of Commons having automatic primacy, this would be a new settlement of shared sovereignty,” Bryan notes.

A reformed – most-likely directly elected – second chamber would have a key role in this, bringing the nations and regions together to agree what powers should be devolved and which should be shared.

Jeremy Corbyn has previously stated: “We have a House of Lords which is dominated by a small number of people from London and the south east. I would want to see an elected second chamber that it is representative of all regions and nations of the United Kingdom. I think that’s very, very important. I think it should have an electoral mandate to go with it.”

The party’s last manifesto [5] said it was a ‘belief’ that the second chamber should be elected, but this paper moves that closer into action.

Willie Sullivan, Director of ERS Scotland, said:

“The piecemeal, ad hoc approach to democratic change in the UK has held us back, with a constant, low-level constitutional crisis: with Scotland and the other nations pitted against Westminster, and vice versa. That is not a sustainable relationship and it is time for an approach the puts citizens at the centre, not the needs of politicians. What form this reform takes is up for discussion, but it is good to see parties considering this in the round.

“As this briefing points out, the primary way to reform the bloated, unelected House of Lords is to replace it with a fairly-elected revising chamber, with a clearly defined remit and which can speak up for the nations and regions of the whole UK. Voters are tired of seeing scandal after scandal in the Lords with no way of kicking them out. A much-smaller, more effective second chamber would help draw to a close the era of unaccountable power and bring our democracy into the 21st century.”

Nancy Platts, Jeremy Corbyn’s former trade union adviser and co-ordinator of Politics for the Many – the trade union campaign for political reform – said:

“This is a fundamental step forward in developing Labour’s thinking on constitutional reform. Labour must now adopt these proposals as the starting point to ensuring that our politics works for the many, not an unelected few.”


Notes to Editors

The paper is available here (not for linking): and will be published on later today.


[2] The event is available here:

[3] Polling of 3014 GB adults by BMG for ERS. Fieldwork dates: August and September 2018. Data is weighted to be demographically representative. The sample size excluding ‘don’t knows’ is 2693 GB adults.

Support for replacing the Lords with an elected chamber:
Percentage figures exclude don’t knows and are weighted to be demographically representative (unweighted sample size in brackets). Please note small sample size for SNP/Green/UKIP figures:

  • Con – 62%
  • Lab – 61%
  • LD – 60%
  • UKIP – 72%
  • Plaid – 50%
  • SNP – 65%
  • Green – 58%

[4] The paper is being distributed in print at Scottish Labour conference and will be available here:

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