• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Agenda: Brown's pro-Union plans against poverty could be a gift to Yes camp

Like many Labour Party members, Gordon Brown is not a fan of what the party calls constitutional politics.

He shut down discussion about independence when Prime Minister. He was determined that Britain should move forward as an entity and was incredulous about Wendy Alexander's ploy of holding an early referendum to resolve the "national question" for a generation.

These days, with the national question soon to be put to the Scottish public, Mr Brown is no longer ignoring constitutional politics. This week he addressed a roomful of community leaders and Labour members to join the debate for the third time in a year.

His speech outlined six proposals for constitutional change, to turn the "unitary and centralised state of the past into a partnership of equals". It was reported as a radical package of welfare and taxation powers. Yet Mr Brown's suggestion that 40% of taxes should be raised in Scotland and small parts of the benefit system should be integrated with current devolved powers hardly amounts to a radical plan.

The only radical edge appeared when he spoke about poverty. He has tried to make the significant reductions in poverty while he was Chancellor part of his legacy.

He told a story about a Swedish statesman, Olof Palme, who was asked by Ronald Reagan whether he didn't want to abolish the rich. Palme replied: "No, I want to abolish the poor". The trouble with his speech was that it lacked any clues about how poverty can be abolished.

Most campaigners would join with the Child Action Poverty Group in pointing to fiscal powers; the ability to tax and spend; and the powers to create jobs or redevelop the economy and damaged communities. But Mr Brown didn't call for these powers to be devolved. He argued against devolving the necessary powers to tackle poverty in Scotland.

His conclusion was, at best, rhetorical: that we don't want to separate Scotland from England but to separate people from poverty; free people from deprivation; and give to all the liberating potential of a better life.

If he still had ideas for tackling poverty, his speech would have made an argument about which powers are needed to challenge poverty, placing the quest to free Scotland from it as the central consideration for those making up their minds about how to vote in September; and projecting forward to a joint programme between British and Scottish Labour governments united to eradicate poverty.

But the central argument was a conservative one: for a Union that pools and shares resources across the nations and regions of Britain at a time when resources have never been so unfairly distributed.

Austerity has driven millions into poverty, and the below-inflation welfare spending of Labour and the Tories at Westminster is not helping to fight poverty but, in the words of the Child Poverty Action Group, is producing poverty.

Mr Brown's speech was disjointed: on one hand, a constitutional plan that tried to balance the popular demand for further powers with the old powers reserved to Westminster and, on the other, a moral appeal to place the fight against poverty at the heart of Scotland's politics. Yet these are not contradictory, and he did not make a convincing case that the struggle against poverty is best fought from Westminster.

He added no killer arguments to the No campaign's armoury. In fact, he may have helped the Yes case, by providing a timely reminder that fighting poverty will be a central priority of our politics, no matter the constitutional outcome .

Also, a Scottish Labour Party in an independent Scotland would be determined to use all the powers of an independent state to fight poverty.

Many campaigners for a Yes vote, including Labour members, poverty campaigners and members of the communities where poverty runs deepest, share Mr Brown's priorities. They also think a Yes vote is the better route to fighting poverty in Scotland and liberating all from want and deprivation.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

219188