Under pressure from those who feel soiled by sharing a platform with the Tories (though oddly feel no problem in them running our country with no mandate) Labour today launch their very own No campaign: ‘Better Together (Apart) United’. This will take some herculean spin by Labour, the Conservatives and the Better Together campaign to present a united front amidst the tangled and bizarre set of contradictions it represents.
You don’t want to share a platform with the Conservatives because what they represent is so alien to Scottish political culture? You feel the need to have your own say, articulate your own political vision? Sounds good, but as a mantra for Better Together it’s ridiculous. This is the politics of escher.
The re-launch also represents a re-birth for the elusive former PM. Thankfully Gordon has at least two newspapers dedicated almost solely to him opening things in the Courier and the Fife Free Press and has a reservoir of goodwill in Scotland despite this and – for example this, never mind this. The explanation for this pool of uncritical goodwill is often explained as a) he’s not Tony Blair and b) a folk memory of when Brown as a part of a generation of ‘radical’ thinkers produced The Red Paper on Scotland in 1975 c) he was treated abominably by the media when he was PM.
None of which is very relevant nor going to help the No campaign explain this labyrinth of competing narratives.
The reality is that while Brown lacked the oozing gelatinous charm of Bambi he was his prop and his foil for decades. Any crimes against society that New Labour are guilty of have Brown’s fingerprints on them. The Red Paper on Scotland contains wisdom and insight – it’s just that it’s wisdom and insight that Brown spent the next thirty years shedding and disowning. The treatment Brown experienced as PM is actually a really good reason for independence as it bares witness to English political parochialism.
The contradictions in today’s events are overwhelming. In the Red Paper Brown stated: “Scottish socialists cannot support a strategy for independence which postpones the meeting of urgent social and economic needs until the day after independence,’ he wrote. ‘But neither can they give unconditional support to maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom – and all that that entails – without any guarantee of radical social change’
As Neal Ascherson has written about Brown’s contribution, there was: “No ‘Hammer of the Nats’ rhetoric, no ‘Tartan Tories’ abuse. ‘What this Red Paper seeks to do is to transcend that false and sterile antithesis which has been manufactured between the nationalism of the SNP and the anti-nationalism of the Unionist parties.’ What mattered to him was the cause of working people – Scottish working people. If the Union became an obstacle to serving that cause, then there was no reason to keep it.”
I think we can assume he won’t be quoting from it today. But which version of Gordon will we see today? Will it be the man who declared his best sporting moment to be England scoring against Scotland? Will it be the proto-Farage Gordon who demanded ‘British jobs for British workers’?
Lesley Riddoch has asked – I think this is rhetorical – “Can Gordon Brown surprise the home crowd with an unapologetically Scottish rebirth as a progressive feminist socialist?”
Thirty years on we see the tragedy of a career politician, who’s vision and idealism was ground away by Westminster and the allure of office. This, almost more than his terrible record in office is the enduring message and why he’s a terrible advert for the Union.
As Alex Salmond has it:
“The case that Gordon Brown is putting forward is political, arithmetical and intellectual nonsense. It is political nonsense because Labour cannot with any credibility call on Scotland to save England from the Tories – while at the same time being in the same campaign as the Tories telling Scots to vote No. No amount of cosmetic launches can disguise the fact that Labour are joined at the hip with the Tories in the No campaign.
“It is arithmetical nonsense because Scotland has had 30 years of Tory governments being imposed on Scotland by Westminster – over half the period since 1959, including the long 18 years of Tory government after 1979, and the current Tory-led coalition. By contrast, for only 26 months – from the 1964 to 1966 elections, and between the two elections in 1974 – have MPs from Scotland made any difference in terms of electing Labour, every other Labour government would have been elected south of the Border anyway. It is impossible for 8.4 per cent of the UK population to dictate to the rest, and the electoral record shows that it is a totally threadbare argument.
“Intellectually it is nonsense because the reality is that nations are entitled to choose their own governments – something that Gordon Brown should realise given the disastrous 28 per cent share of the vote Labour got in England in 2010, and which Scotland can do nothing about.”
That’s quite a lot of nonsense.