Tom Peterkin: Emerging from the wings, Gordon Brown appears ready to impose maximum influence
IT WOULD have been interesting to eavesdrop on a conversation that took place at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week.
After two, brooding years since his defeat in the general election, Gordon Brown had just finished making his comeback to front line politics.
Addressing a packed marquee in Charlotte Square, the former prime minister had given his critique of the SNP’s plans for the constitution.
Sitting near the front, listening intently, was another former political leader from Fife – Labour’s Henry McLeish.
Brown’s view that full fiscal autonomy (or so-called devo-max) would result in higher taxes for Scots must have been of particular interest to the former First Minister.
It was only days before that McLeish had expressed an entirely different view at his own book festival event.
Reports of McLeish’s appearance to promote his new book Scotland: The Growing Divide said the former MSP wanted Labour to embrace devo-max. He has also made it clear he wants a second question with it as an option on the referendum ballot.
Clearly this puts him at odds with his fellow Fifer. So when McLeish went up to Brown to exchange a few words at the end of the former prime minister’s speech, who wouldn’t bet that their differing attitudes towards devo-max cropped up in conversation?
McLeish has been a vocal proponent of devo-max yet, despite the wind and thunder, it is the Brown view that is prevails within the Labour Party.
Brown is not against more powers per se. But he has real difficulties with the devo-max/full fiscal settlement fearing it would lead to either huge cuts in public expenditure or punitive tax rises.
After a couple of years in the political wilderness, Brown would appear to be coming in from the cold. This week’s festival lecture in memory of Donald Dewar is to be followed shortly by an appearance at the Politics Festival held in the Scottish Parliament.
There he will deliver a lecture in remembrance of the late STUC General Secretary Campbell Christie, which will see him articulate what sort of extra powers he thinks the Scottish Parliament could have – short of devo-max.
Brown’s credibility may have taken a bashing by the loss of the 2010 general election, but Labour in Scotland still believe that he is a substantial figurehead.
One Labour insider pointed out, despite defeat in the UK as a whole, Brown delivered 42 per cent support north of the Border.
The presence of the Labour spinners at the Dewar Lecture was also an indication that Brown is expressing mainstream party views and still an influential voice in Scotland.
The same perhaps could not be said for McLeish whose views, while thought-provoking, are no-longer at the forefront of Labour thinking.
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