More articles Monday 31 August 2015 11:00am
Gordon Brown accuses the Conservative Party of risking the future of the UK
Gordon Brown has accused the Conservative Party of “turning on the tap of English nationalism” that risked the future of the Union. Addressing a packed audience at the Book Festival yesterday, he said that the manner in which the administration had acted since the Scottish independence referendum risked “pushing Scotland and England further apart”.
The former Prime Minister said he believed that the fate of the Union would be set in the next 12 months not by what was said in Scotland but by events in England. Brown added: “Countries can fall apart when one nation, one group wants to leave, and that is common in history, but countries can also fall apart because the people who say that they want to hold it together, lack the courage and will to hold it together.” He said that during the past few months, the Conservative Party had stoked English nationalism by creating the idea of “a Scottish menace, a Scottish danger, a Scottish risk”, an act he branded as “dangerous and almost insidious”.
Brown added: “The nationalists in Scotland were playing the Scottish national card, there’s no doubt about it, but instead of playing the British unity card, the Conservatives decided to play at the General Election the English nationalist card.” The policy, he said, was one of several through which the Tories were endangering the future of the Union. The politician said that plans to establish English votes for English legislation, excluding Scottish MPs, were also damaging national unity by creating two classes of MPs in Westminster.
He explained: “There is no law making body in the world - America, Australia, Nigeria, Brazil, Germany – which has two classes of members of parliament. And to me it is not a sustainable proposition in the long run.” Brown also cited the failure of the current government to implement the Smith Commission’s recommendations to give the Scottish Parliament the power to top-up benefits as destabilising. “You could end up with welfare cuts which are going to be massive, I’m afraid, another form of battering ram austerity economics. And unless the Scottish Parliament has the power to do something about it, we will have welfare cuts taking place against the will of the Scottish people,” he said. Brown concluded that the cumulative effect of these Conservative policies was to erode the Union.
“The tragedy of these three changes, which have been brought about in the past year by decisions of the Government of the day, is that they are pushing Scotland and England further apart,” he said. “So even if the Scottish people decided that they were happy to have a balanced relationship with the United Kingdom of autonomy balanced by sharing, there is this new dimension in this relationship, which will come alive again, I’m afraid, with the European referendum, when UKIP has a major role in talking about immigration to England, and this is driving us apart.”
Speaking on the topic of A Conversation About Scotland, the politician, who recently published his views on the future of the country in My Scotland, Our Britain, said that the country was at a turning point. He said Scotland had to choose whether it wanted to return to a 19th Century version of absolute sovereignty, with control placed in a single state, or a 21st Century vision of a country that accepted the realities of globalisation and cooperation, and balanced “as much autonomy as we want with as much sharing as we need.”
He said that there was a worldwide insecurity brought about by an uncontrollable rate of global change - socially, financially and technologically - that was finding expression in the rise of nationalism and isolationism around the world. Brown added. “There is a sense in which people feel that things are out of control, that the global economy is not serving their region well, and they want to bring the control back home, and of course that’s the inspiration of nationalist movements as well. Bring control back home, small state sovereignty, we can do it better ourselves.”
He said, however, that countries exist in a global economy that was integrated and interdependent, and that unless a government had a strategy to address this, any other policies it had were “virtually irrelevant” to running its own economy: “The issue is not just autonomy, the issue is sharing and you have to get the balance right of autonomy and sharing in interdependent and integrated economies.”