Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh: Gordon Brown's constitution schtick might prove alluring to some
POLITICS, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Since the Supreme Court demolition job, there has unfortunately been no initiative from the Scottish Government, save that there will be an SNP conference at some point next year.
Into this void this week came the lumbering figure of Gordon Brown who, Rip Van Winkle-like, emerges from a cave every so often to repeat his speeches from the referendum campaign of 2014.
Now from a nationalist perspective, Brown has little, perhaps even no, credibility at all. Few of us have forgotten or forgiven the “Vow” which was inspired (although not presented) by Broon.
That dubious presentational honour belongs to reborn SNP staffer Murray Foote, then editor of the Daily Record. Not since “peace in our time” has a single paper contained so much deception.
Indeed, Foote tweeted about Brown this very Monday, comparing the reaction to his constitutional reform paper to that of a disconsolate South Korean fan watching his team get gubbed by Brazil.
And, of course, Labour’s latest proposals are indeed underwhelming – let’s call them the lesser Vow. While 2014 pledged “as near to federalism as you can get”, the 2022 redux promises a Prime Ministerial Committee to replace the current joint ministerial working groups.
And these proposals are not really about Scotland at all.
Labour’s overwhelming priority seems to be to rebuild the red wall in the north of England. In this sense, the Brown constitutional initiative is more about providing a Labour response to Tory “levelling up” than allowing Scotland to achieve “independence in the UK”, to cite an oxymoron once used by the late Donald Dewar.
That is why Labour’s primary launch on Monday was in Leeds and only afterwards did the caravan decant to Edinburgh.
Of course, the supine and inexperienced MSM in Scotland chose not to skewer Brown on the fact that the young idealist who once led Labour’s devolution campaign of 1979, who also signed the 1989 Claim of Right proudly proclaiming the sovereignty of the Scottish people, now sat silent while Sir Keir Starmer joined the Supreme Court and the Tory government in rubbishing the notion.
Old men forget but young journalists have never learned.
For all that history, it would be foolish for nationalists to discount Brown’s latest resurrection – because nature does abhor a vacuum and – in the absence of any Scottish Government proposal – even Brown’s old banger is at least a vehicle on the road.
The point is that for 25 years, the national movement has been set on a clear course and a certain strategy – win a majority in the Scottish Parliament and launch the independence bid from that platform. It was successful beyond the dreams of those who proposed it.
We were provided with that first opportunity back in 2014 – but others could have been seized over the last six years. They weren’t and instead, there was this year’s faltering and suicidal charge into the guns of the Supreme Court – an act of supreme self-harm to the independence cause. Now there is that vacuum which had better be filled – and quickly.
Hope is still very much alive, of course, and the Yes Movement is still kicking. Just look at the rallies responding to the Supreme Court arrogance, the opinion poll bounce for independence, and the splendid ambition of the Common Weal programme, Sorted: A Handbook For A Better Scotland, which launched this week.
And this Saturday, Alba’s conference on the way ahead is already packed to the gunnels and vastly oversubscribed beyond its 350 capacity.
However, there has to be more to independence strategy than merely declaring a “de facto referendum” for a Westminster poll. In this line of thought, there’s no evident sign of thinking through the implications or considering the obvious Holyrood alternatives (such as disbanding and rerouting, as per one of my previous columns) or indeed any very necessary additions to give it any chance of working.
At the SNP Westminster group meeting last week (which it would be fair to say was not exactly brimming with enthusiasm for her plan), I am told that the First Minister was asked what would happen if there was such a majority vote for independence.
Her reply puzzled many people present. She reportedly said that was a question to be answered by Westminster! Well, it already has been. And they said no.
At Labour’s press conference in Edinburgh on Monday, Starmer dismissed the idea of a General Election majority vote for the SNP even as a mandate for a referendum – never mind a mandate – to negotiate independence!
That is where we are and that is what needs to be changed and quickly. And the process had better start right now.
Because in the absence of a viable independence alternative, even the second-rate, recycled mirage from Labour may start to take the form of an oasis in the desert.
Article first appeared in The National newspaper on Wednesday 7 December