Brownhog Day in Charlotte Square

Gordon Brown has been weaponised against independence but it’s a jammed shotgun that keeps misfiring. He’s being weaponised and used but he’s also trying to re-write his role in history and retrofit and resurrect his career. The Edinburgh Book Festival is a bastion of vanilla centrism and provides a regular gig for a slew of retired Labour politicians. The “world’s greatest platform for creative freedom” (really) this year hosted Gordon Brown (‘his unique perspective on our tumultuous times’), Alan Johnson (‘witty memoirs’) and Roy Hattersley (‘The Labour Party’s Future‘).

Most of these people are harmless, but Brown’s latest intervention is a calculated one supported by puff pieces in the Scotsman and the Telegraph and accompanying articles (like this by Jim Gallagher in The Times and this by Euan McColm.)

Gallagher combines smearing the independence movement with “Orban, Salvini and Trump” before arguing vaguely that:

“A model of federalism is emerging for the UK. It is as much a change of mindset as a change of powers, replacing the outworn notions of parliamentary sovereignty which are at the root of so much of the UK’s unnecessarily centralised governance with a real understanding of the UK as a voluntary union of different nations, a multinational state.”

Ostensibly all this activity is to support the launch of Gordon Brown’s new think-tank Our Scottish Future but its also clearly a sign that the British elite are rattled and anxious.

Brown – talking of “hardline separatism” – told his audience that the “push for Scottish independence would destroy empathy between Scotland and England”.

He “savaged” David Cameron over Brexit, accusing his successor of being too “lazy” to strike a deal with Europe that could have avoided it and then made a number of highly dubious claims and propositions about European opt-outs over immigration.

He said: “Look in Germany you can’t be an immigrant into Germany unless you’re registered for work”.

In doing so he inadvertently triggered one of the funniest ironies of the whole xenophobic Brexit narrative. Is it people coming over here to steal your jobs you’re are angry about, or is it lazy people coming over here to scrounge off the system? Because it can’t be both of these things.

But Gordon Brown has a track record on this.

As Jamie Maxwell wrote the last time Brown rolled-out his now familiar trope of constitutional cliche (The Rehabilitation of Gordon Brown): “Gordon Brown bears a sizeable share of responsibility not just for the 2008 crisis itself, but for the catastrophic mishandling of its aftermath and for the current atmosphere of nativist toxicity in British politics.”

Maxwell continues: “Brown did a lot of ideological grunt work for the right in terms of the economy and spending cuts. But he shamelessly bolstered its social and cultural narrative, too. In and out of power, Brown has repeatedly appealed to the worst atavistic tendencies of the UK electorate.

On a trip to Tanzania in 2005, he told reporters that the UK should “celebrate” its colonial past. In 2009, he argued that “British jobs” should be reserved for “British workers.” And as recently as June of this year, he was calling for a crackdown on immigration as part of a broader package of policies to help “address people’s anxieties” over Brexit.”

The Union Dividend

Courting Charlotte Squares well-heeled audience he brought out a few meaningless if populist Remainer one-liners before returning to his main political focus, which was to attack the notion of an independent Scotland and frame the SNP as extremists.

In a wonderful puff piece by the Telegraph’s Scottish Political Editor, Simon Johnson writes enthusiastically:

“Mr Brown’s intervention came after official figures published last week found Scotland ran up a £12.6 billion deficit, or seven per cent of GDP, far higher than the UK or any EU member state.

They also showed Scots benefit from a record “Union dividend” of almost £2,000 each as they receive £1,661 per head more public spending than the UK average while paying £307 less tax.

Mr Brown, who was also Chancellor for a decade, warned that Scotland was trapped between “two extremes” of Boris Johnson’s anti-European Conservatism and Ms Sturgeon’s “hard-line separatism.”

Brown argues:

“The starting point of a modern Union is that promoting co-operation between Scotland and England within the UK will achieve far more than a seemingly endless confrontation between Scotland and England” without at any point articulating how this magical co-operation is to emerge from the traces of Brexit.

Johnson reports the GERS figures like a faithful scribe, not hesitating to address their widespread ridicule, nor to ask Brown how this new Federal future would work, who is delivering it and why no-one is interested in it. But that’s his job, not to ask these questions.

The entire framework of the Brown outlook is to assume that some parts of the Union are inherently economically bankrupt and require structural support from other wealthier parts. How or why this is so is never questioned or explained. This is just the natural order of things and that being so, the Union is therefore essential. There is a logic to it even if it is weirdly backward and self-defeating, completely lacking in ambition or vision and cloaked in a uniquely British cloth of cultural self-hatred.

The entire purpose of Brown’s latest intervention and of the Our Scottish Future think-tank is to position independence alongside Brexit as moments of economic uncertainty and of political extremism. The irony is that he does this whilst peddling some of the worst myths of the Brexit narrative whilst also regurgitating the same Federalist ideas that have no party political or popular backing at all. While he will continue to be given a stage by the media, the public broadcaster and events like the Book Festival to tell comforting stories about Britain, he is in reality an isolated figure without power in British politics.

Comments (16)

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  1. Graeme Purves says:

    Did Gordon Brown and Jim Gallagher do their promised Gruffalo Dance? Did it frighten the children or the old folk more? Did we get a glimpse of the ‘new faces and fresh ideas’ which will animate the new think tank? Did the model of federalism Jim Gallagher teases us with actually emerge?

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Bodger Broon’s piece was entirely ‘straw man’ stuff, equating Scottish independence with the xenophobic and racist nationalism emerging in England and with the right wing ‘populists’ elsewhere. It is exactly the same idea that Better Together used and is simply being re-run. However, we are 5 years on and the mendacity of that case is clear to many people.

    Again he resurrects the ‘federalism’ blancmange that was ‘The Vow’.

    Recent long articles in the Telegraph show how much he was involved with Mr David Cameron in drafting the latter’s strategy and speeches during 2014. This was ‘Quisling’ stuff. And, of course Mr Cameron showed his posh boy nasty contempt by announcing English Votes for English laws on the day after the referendum, and the metropolitan media resumed the contemptuous vitriol which they had poured on him during his ill-fated premiership.

    During his premiership he was signally unable to articulate a ‘vision for the United Kingdom’ and only came up with the lame, and xenophobic ‘British jobs for British workers’, which gave succour to the anti-EU groups. Why did he not come out with the poling and sharing federalist vision at the time? BECAUSE IT IS ALL HOGWASH.

    He and his Scottish Labour cronies want to be able to keep their snouts in the Westminster trough.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      PS Bodger
      1. Relating to something crap.
      2. Speaking in a deep retarded voice for no reason

  3. David Allan says:

    Mike , this paragraph is just sublime.

    “The entire framework of the Brown outlook is to assume that some parts of the Union are inherently economically bankrupt and require structural support from other wealthier parts. How or why this is so is never questioned or explained. This is just the natural order of things and that being so, the Union is therefore essential. There is a logic to it even if it is weirdly backward and self-defeating, completely lacking in ambition or vision and cloaked in a uniquely British cloth of cultural of self-hatred.”

    A note to SNP / Greens / Yes Groups- as Mike says “How or Why this is so is never questioned or explained”. Who is making the public case for Independence in the face of continued misinformation peddled by the unionist media and chums!

    1. Michael says:

      Aye, great paragraph and good question – who is articulating that industry in Scotland has been sacrificed because is suited the priorities of The City of London, and that sensible land use here has been stifled as an issue because it suits absentee landlords who use Scottish land as a holding asset for their “wealth” (gained by using The City’s magic money to ransack the worlds natural resources and social fabric).

  4. Alan says:

    I am so sick of hearing from and about Brown. He needs to crawl under a rock and leave us all alone. Tom Nairn had him nicely skewered as the Bard of Britishness years ago:

    a career of skillful ruin-management–that he would become the Jeeves of Great Britain’s last days, a courtier of self-abasement, sleaze, insanely false pretences, failed reform and neo-imperial warfare.

    1. Graeme McCormick says:

      Brown has all the substance of a tasteless soufflé .

      Blair built him up as a stooge for his ambitions with a stature which was hollow from head to toe including the clunking fist.

      Blair departed in the knowledge that the fall guy would be so besotted with his right of succession that even though his failures in every one else’s eyes are actually successes in any retrospective comments he makes. Self shame he does not recognise.

  5. Alan says:

    It is interesting how Brown avoids talking about the elephant in the room: English nationalism. It’s no surprise that the last Unionists are to be found in the old political elites in NI and Scotland, elites desperately clinging to the Britishness from whence their position derives, as it is undermined by an English re-awaking.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      I was speaking to an Old Labour supporter last week. Interestingly, while he spoke admiringly of Mr Brown’s redistributive instincts (he did have them at one time) and of his intellect, he considered him a failure as PM – ‘He plotted all those yours to be Prime Minister and, when he did, he did not know what to do with it.”

      I know it is not a great revelation to readers of this site, but, I think it is indicative that even within the deepest strata, the plates are shifting.

  6. James Mills says:

    You know the Unionists are feeling really feart about the inexorable momentum towards Independence – they wheel out Broon the Loon , with his pathetic ” federalism will save the Union ” message .
    Newsflash , Gordo – WE don’t want to save the Union !
    And by their words and actions it is clear that most English Brexiteers and the Cabinet of all the talents built by Boris ( pause for hysterical laughter ) don’t want to either .
    Away and gie’s peace ! Go and count the fruits of your PFI labours and talk about the old , glory days of Labour with all your former working class hero colleagues – in the House of Lords .

  7. John B Dick says:

    English workers for English Jobs is not new.

    A19thC backbench MP toured England campaigning against employers giving the best jobs to immigrants, but they ignoored him,

    Then as now, if you are the proprietor on a SME business, it is nearly always the technical or production side of the business that interest you. Irrespective of whether you are a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, administration and finance is a chore and a distraction from the aspect at which you believe you excel.

    What you need for the fifth employee of a growing business is someone you can delegate this burden to, Someone you can trust to do it well. Your mother maybe,

    What the CEO of a 19thC SME needed was someone who was literate, numerate, used to a frugal lifestyle (i.e. cheap to employ) with a fear of hellfire to keep him honest.

    Scotland, especially the highlands, had a plentiful supply thanks to the different course of the reformation and Presbyterian educational objectives.

    Why did you think it was that Scotland, with a fraction of the population, had twice as many universities as England for hundreds of years. At least a couple in Holland were well used too.

    Why wouldn’t anyone think that introducing tuition fees in Scotland would be a popular idea?

    History.

  8. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    And, now, The Colonel is resigning! Who will front the unionist campaign in Scotland?

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Blair McDougall says Ruth will.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        According to the Guardian she expressed support for Mr Johnson’s decision to prorogue Westminster. And the Guardian has always been one of her cheerleaders!

        She has probably assured herself of a ‘billet’ in the House of Lords, if Mr Johnson manages to get some form of Brexit. Then she will not have to bother about voters and Holyrood. She can join the board of companies, turn up for a few debates and pick up expenses.

  9. SleepingDog says:

    Having seen Gordon Brown gladhanded by his basking cronies, I wonder if he suffers from some kind of sycophanticemia. Surely the Edinburgh International Book Festival used to be a bit more radical, represented more by Verso’s Book of Dissent than the self-stuffing biographies of Labour crocks? In my experience, it was a useful venue for finding out how people from other nations confront their own histories of imperialism.

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