Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Gordon Brown; the Unionist's final throw of the dice?

When David Cameron was finally able to evict the ‘squatter holed up’ in Downing Street after the General Election in 2010, he must have thought he wouldn’t have worry about Gordon Brown again. The irony, therefore, that the Prime Minister is trusting his one-time opponent basically to lead the final stages of the battle to keep the union together must be painful indeed. Any personal animosity has, for now, been swept aside.

It is hard to conclude that the MP for Kirkcaldy’s intervention, pledging an array of devolved powers to Scotland, was anything other than an act of desperation. All three major Westminster parties have pledged their support for this package of constitutional reform, regardless of whether there has been any consultation with voters about what exactly they want. Moreover, while the reforms are apparently exclusively Scottish, it will rapidly prove to be an impossible position to maintain; Wales and Northern Ireland would certainly want something similar and regions, Cornwall, the North East, Yorkshire, will clamour for reform. Nick Clegg has already acknowledged this, saying further devolution in Scotland will:

'signal a much wider rewiring of the governance and constitutional arrangements in the country as a whole, particularly governance within England which remains an unusually over-centralised country'.

Hence, regardless of whether Scotland votes yes or not, Britain is on the cusp of potentially huge, and rushed, constitutional change.

Brown has been thrust into the limelight at this late stage as even his opponents are recognising that, despite his pretty disastrous time as prime minister, he remains the equivalent of Heineken; he can reach voters other pro-Union political figures just can’t reach. Messrs Cameron, Miliband and Clegg have cancelled their appearance Prime Ministers’ Questions to head to Scotland and campaign for a No vote, but their presence is, if anything, a boost to the Yes campaign. Alex Salmond said today: ‘The message of this extraordinary, last minute reaction is that the Westminster elite are in a state of absolute panic as the ground in Scotland shifts under their feet.’ The farcical scenes around the country of the Saltire being raised above town halls and even Downing Street, as if such an act would swing a floating voter, rather gives credence to the SNP leader’s view.

The toxicity of the Tories in Scotland cannot be underestimated; in my recent trip up there the venom reserved for Mrs Thatcher was still fresh and vivid. In many ways, the imposition of the 'Bedroom Tax', though applicable nationally, echoes the hated Poll Tax. Hence, One of the SNP’s strongest lines, repeated over and over again, is voting for independence is the only way Scotland can avoid ever having to endure a Conservative government again, conveniently forgetting that the Tories haven’t won an election since 1992 and, in parliamentary terms, remain virtually wiped out north of the border.

Ed Miliband has been inept, unable to harness the millions of Labour voters the party is normally able to rely upon; the Labour Party’s brand has been damaged by Alex Salmond constantly calling them the allies of the Tories. Such a comment would make any Labour voter in England bristle with irritation but it will still carry power. Labour's recent time in office also does them few favours too. While it may have established the Scottish parliament, paving the way for the situation we have today, the party, particularly under Tony Blair, shifted to the right, no longer recognisable to many.

And Clegg? As it is his party keeping the Conservatives in power, thus enabling unpopular measures such as the ‘Bedroom Tax’, he will struggle to find a sympathetic ear.

Gordon Brown will be seen every day between now and the referendum. Yesterday, he spoke without notes, with power, passion and fluency – Cameron’s advisers would have raved at such a performance. It was an echo of the early speeches Brown made before he was rendered thumpingly dull by the process of power.

Much of the contents echoed his book My Scotland, Our Britain, the best, most positive, pro-Union argument I have yet read, where he explains how it is possible to a both proud Scot and a proud Briton. And it recognises how the debate is one of economics and politics as well as an issue of the heart. And the former Labour prime minister may yet still win the day for the Union cause. Combined with the potential for constitutional change, we are faced with the prospect of a quirky historical twist that Gordon Brown could achieve something more long lasting and profound as a backbench Kirkcaldy MP than he ever did as Prime Minister.


It hasn't taken long for politicians from England's regions to start calling for extra powers to be devolved. Andrew George, MP, for St Ives, tells the Western Morning News:

'All parties now acknowledge the benefits and opportunities of allowing the nations and the regions of the UK to manage their public services and shape their futures whilst releasing themselves from the dead hand of micromanagement from Whitehall.

'If Scotland and Wales can be offered further powers then Cornwall must be next in line. After all, Cornwall is already recognised as a distinct region for economic development purposes, as a separate people and for its distinct language.

'After all, who is best-placed to decide how Cornwall's housing stock and development plans are best managed? Inspectors in Whitehall or democratically elected representatives in Cornwall?

'Who is best-placed to manage Cornwall's health and social care? Health managers in Whitehall and Leeds or the people, patients and clinicians of Cornwall?

'Who is best-placed to decide ho Cornwall's economic development aid is spent? Ministers and mandarins in Whitehall or the business leaders, workers and elected representatives of Cornwall?'

The full article can be found here.

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