Gordon Brown last night made a high profile return to the Scottish political scene, taking Alex Salmond’s dream of independence head on.
The former prime minister warned of the consequences of no longer “pooling resources” with the entire UK and warned of higher taxes or reduced spending in the event of full scale fiscal devolution.
Citing the success of Scottish Olympians over the past fortnight, the former prime minister used a speech at the Edinburgh international book festival to outline the harm that could be done to Scottish interests in the event of independence.
“One thing I take from the Olympics, a point that Sir Chris Hoy has already made for me – when we pool and share resources for the common good the benefit is far greater than would have occurred if we’d just added up the sum of the parts.
“So the National Health Service is common insurance policy … the BBC, shared across the United Kingdom. The armed forces, so you don’t have a Scottish, a Welsh and an English army.
“The Olympics it is pretty clear – we managed to do it in cycling with pooled resources – if you had just divided the money and put a tenth to Scotland and a tenth to Yorkshire, you could not have achieved the same results we did.”
Turning his attention to the prospects of Scotland gaining fiscal autonomy within the UK meanwhile, he argued that it amounted to a recipe for higher taxes and spending cuts. He explained:
“If you break up the fiscal union, if you break up the sharing and pooling of resources across the UK, then it’s clear that you will either have to cut public expenditure massively beyond what is being done at the moment, or you will have to tax Scottish people more.
“If you have full fiscal autonomy, you stop the pooling of resources across the UK and you can’t turn to the UK for help.
“I worry about fiscal autonomy as the next stage of devolution. It means more taxes. What’s sometimes called devolution maxy is dangerous.”
“Break up the union and then you will have regionally-varied minimum wage rates, and that will mean there will be a race to the bottom with one unit trying to undercut the other and then the good undercutting the bad and the bad undercutting the worse.
“Break up the union that we’ve created and you will have different social security rates. Some people may welcome that at the start, but you will end up with a pensioner being treated completely differently in one part of the United Kingdom from the other and people who are unemployed giving a completely different kind of treatment or disabled people a different kind of treatment.
“I think people will think that is not progress, that is moving backwards, and there’ll be a competition to see who can cut resources more quickly.”
• Salmond’s summer slump continues 1 Aug 2012
Whilst a spokesperson for Scottish Finance Secretary, John Swinney argued that the former PM’s speech would “back fire”, not least because, he argued, that the unionist parties “continue to offer Scotland nothing” there was a sense of good will towards Brown’s speech in the press.
Declaring his contribution “refreshingly forward-looking” the Herald’s editorial concluded:
“A hunger for a nuanced public discussion on independence that goes beyond party dogma has been apparent for some time. Mr Brown has provided a timely reminder of the need for political parties, civic organisations and individuals keen to take part in the great debate to encompass both first principles and substance.
“He acknowledged the Scottish tradition of the democratic intellect. If there is life yet in that concept, now is the time to start exercising it.”
At the Guardian, speaking of his readiness to join “Team GB”, it’s editorial this morning observes:
“Now freed of the burdens of office himself, the former PM has woken up to the damage that Labour’s “insider” status in Scottish politics has done the party. After the nationalists formed a minority administration in 2007, the Labour opposition ended up carping about popular policies, such as axing prescription charges on technocratic grounds, freeing Mr Salmond to claim to be the authentic voice of Scotland’s social democratic mainstream.
“The first minister also talks about compassion and solidarity as specifically Scottish values. Mr Brown now seeks to snooker him, by adding the twist that these ideals find their concrete expression in an NHS sustained by UK-wide revenues, a welfare safety net which straddles the border and – inevitably – the successes of Team GB.
“If Scotland’s No campaign is another Team GB, Mr Brown has the passion as well as the initials to join their fight.”
Meanwhile, as Scotland Office minister, David Mundell, yesterday confirmed that the UK and Scottish governments have agreed on a timetable to settle the mechanics of a referendum, allowing the Scottish Parliament and government to control when it happens.
The Respect MP and Glaswegian, George Galloway, has used his column in the Daily Record to argue that the Olympics have made the case for the referendum to take place now. He writes:
“We are free to vote to quit Team GB. Now is the time to decide. If Salmond isn’t prepared to risk it, the Team GB parliament should. Fire the starter pistol, Mr Speaker.
“I must say I have egg on my face over the Olympics. I was proper churlish about them. I didn’t believe the British state – enfeebled by economic recession, divided by class and race and unresolved national questions, so out of step with what we once were – could possibly execute a Games as virtually flawless as these have been.
“I didn’t believe the British, brought low by their governments and others, were capable of embracing the whole thing with the joy that they have.
“That the team, GB, could get across the finishing line ahead of the others quite so many times – in fact, more times than at any games since the British Empire stood with its boots on the neck of a third of all humanity nearly a century ago.
“I underestimated just how much we would all enjoy the London Olympics and how, from Land’s End to John O’Groats, we would all feel together again.
“As I say, a good time for a referendum on Scotland’s future, no?”