PEOPLE of Scotland, awake! Our precious Union is at risk again from “hard line separatists” to the north and right-wing Brexiteers to the South.

But fear not, because Gordon Brown is on the stump again, determined to give narrow nationalism what for – slam! pow! – and send Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage scurrying back into their populist cages. The Hammer of the Nats is back.

Hearing Gordon Brown at the Edinburgh Book Festival these last weeks took me back fully five years to the dying days of the Scottish independence referendum campaign. Then, the former Prime Minister thundered across central Scotland like an old testament prophet, warning of indyref apocalypse.

Project Fear wasn’t working. Opinion polls were turning. David Cameron was in panic. Brown burst into the campaign, preaching the word, urging Scots to renew their faith in the caring sharing Union that had seen us through two world wars. “There is not a cemetery in Europe,” he said in Glasgow on 17th September 2014, “that doesn’t have Scots, English, Welsh and Irish lying side by side.”

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“Let us tell the nationalists this is not their flag, their country, their culture, their streets!” It was emotionally-charged stuff. It would probably have been condemned as “blood and soil” nationalism had an SNP leader said anything similar. But since this rhetoric was harnessed to the defence of the UK, that speech in Maryhill was hailed as Broon’s Gettysburg Address.

This time round, the former PM has been more measured, at least so far. Though he is in no doubt about the renewed threat from nationalism. “I believe the Union is today more at risk than at any time in 300 years.” He told the Edinburgh Book Festival that “Scotland is trapped between two extremes – Boris Johnson’s anti-European conservatism and the hardline separatism now advocated by Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.”

The real danger, he says, arises from the failure of the Scottish Parliament under SNP management to deliver social justice. This is where his latest Edinburgh Declaration stopped making sense. He admits Holyrood is popular but thinks it has failed “as a genuine force for social economic and educational progress ... ending child and pensioner poverty, building a national health and social care system ... helping deliver not just full employment but fair and fulfilling employment and a sustainable economy”.

The SNP response to this is predictable: “It’s Westminster’s fault”. But surely they have a point. Without full economic powers how could Holyrood deliver full employment? Pensions are not under the control of the Scottish parliament. However, Scottish senior citizens have the benefit of free personal care. They also enjoy free bus travel. As for child poverty, has Gordon Brown not heard of the £10 Child Payment being introduced by the Scottish government? The attempts to mitigate the bedroom tax?


Has he forgotten that university tuition, which has burdened young people in England with humongous debts, is free of charge in Scotland? That prescriptions are also free here? The Scottish government has bitten the tax bullet in Scotland, and higher earners now pay more than they would south of the border. Further social advance – say on welfare or wealth taxes – is extremely difficult given the constitutional limits on the Scottish parliament’s powers.

Attacking the SNP on social justice is pointless, and only recalls Labour’s limitations when in power. Similarly otiose is Gordon Brown’s renewed call for a federal constitution. This old constitutional warhorse has been down the course so many times it hardly knows whether it’s coming or going.

Mr Brown called for a “progressive and clear-cut federal-style division of powers between Westminster and Edinburgh and innovative constitutional reforms to guarantee funding, with the longer-term aim of re-constituting the House of Lords as a Senate representative of the Nations and Regions”. All well and good. However, everyone remembers that this “near federalism” was supposed have been delivered by the Brown-inspired “Vow” following the 2014 referendum. Whatever happened to that?

There is no evidence whatever that England, which accounts for 85 per cent of the UK population, is remotely interested in federalism. Labour failed, in three parliaments, even to reform the undemocratic abomination that is the House of Lords. Why would anyone believe that a future Labour government would deliver on a mammoth constitutional project?

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A division of powers means a written constitution, the drafting of which would probably take a decade, even if there was any demand for it. England has repeatedly rejected regional devolution, most obviously in the 2004 referendums. Does Gordon Brown seriously think that British voters would elect a government committed to abolishing Westminster, creating an English parliament and probably an elected head of state?

Whenever the SNP seems to be gaining electorally, Labour starts talking about federalism. It is a symptom, not a policy. And it is never going to happen, short of a Yes vote in a Scottish independence referendum.

Why should independence be the only route to federalism? Because once Scotland is independent, it would almost immediately be involved in setting up cross-border institutions to manage issues that can only be addressed collectively on this small island. Everything from defence policy to safety of medicine would have to be coordinated on a UK-wide basis.

Indeed, the SNP is not really a “separatist” party at all. The 2013 independence White Paper envisaged a form of con-federalism, in which an independent Scotland would remain part of a newly constituted UK. As Alex Salmond said, Scots would still call themselves British after independence and keep the Queen as head of state. There was to be a common currency, the BBC, the National Lottery, etc.

And Scotland and England were to remain united as common members of the European Union. Well, we saw what happened to that. The SNP is not “obsessed with ending all connections with their neighbours in England”. It is the UK government that is obsessed with ending all connections with the European Union. Gordon Brown needs to reboot his rhetoric to come to terms with the reality that his “caring co-operating” union is dead. Brexit killed it.