15 Sep 2014

Gordon Brown tries to bump David Cameron off the news

I have just been at Gilmerton Miners Club just outside Edinburgh for a speech to No supporters by Gordon Brown. It’s been billed as a major announcement on devolution.

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The bulk of it is the message Gordon Brown unveiled last week ahead of the announcement by the┬áthree main pro-union party leaders: a guaranteed, fast-tracked passage for new devolution measures. Gordon Brown’s add-on today is that the new Scotland Act should enshrine in law the permanence of the Holyrood Parliament. Some Scots might be slightly horrified to think that their parliament can still legally by ripped up by Westminster.

In the current mood, a Scotland Act that didn’t enshrine that power would be pretty unthinkable. the other big add-on: he’s trying to get the Tories to sign up to the current funding arrangements for Scotland – the Barnett formula – in perpetuity.

Gordon Brown’s other announcements are that there should be a statement guaranteeing that social justice is a central purpose of the union. Not clear whether this has all-party agreement.

The Tories haven’t signed up to all of this. He’s trying to pressurise them publicly to do just that. Even some in his own party aren’t fully signed up to his latest venture fearing it might draw attention to the wet paint on the devolution plan rather than convince voters it’s to be trusted.

Last week, the all-party Better Together campaign and Gordon Brown briefly coincided. Today they return to their more conventional, separate trajectories.

Gordon Brown was on to the perilous state of the union way before many of his contemporaries. His book, My Scotland Our Britain, mentions some of the proposals he came with while in government. When he gave the Bank of England independence he wanted to rename it the Bank of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (I think that would have made Alex Salmond’s job easier but there were are). He pondered floating off Celtic and Rangers (the latter then in better nick than today) into the English Premiership. Talks with Rupert Murdoch are said to have touched on this. Neither initiative took off. Many others were discussed.

Even though he may have flammed up his announcement tonight a little, Gordon Brown’s critics can’t deny that he connects with some traditional Labour voters better than most other politicians. He can still do the old time religion and stir their hearts. He has been put centre stage when his old political colleague and former friend Alistair Darling had been wounded by the second┬áTV debate.

I’m told there was much black humour in Downing Street as Gordon Brown returned to centre stage in the last moments of this campaign. They couldn’t quite believe what they were witnessing, less still the fact they’d played a role in asking for his help.

If it’s a No vote on Thursday, Gordon Brown will feel he played a central role in helping to save the union. Quite a few others will agree.

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