FORMER prime minister Gordon Brown revealed last night that he delayed his departure from frontline politics until a deal on Scotland’s constitutional future was secured.
In an emotional resignation speech to his Fife constituents, the 63-year-old confirmed he is quitting as an MP and that he would not become a peer in the House of Lords. But he said he was ready to campaign for a Labour government in next year’s Westminster election and at the “historic” Holyrood elections of 2016, while taking on an “extended role” as a UN envoy for education.
And he said he was ready to reprise his role in the independence referendum, where his performances were credited with swaying opinion towards No in the later stages of campaigning, if there is a further referendum on EU membership.
Last night tributes were paid across the political spectrum to the man who succeeded Tony Blair in Downing Street as Mr Brown confirmed he would quit his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath seat next May. He told a packed local party meeting at Kirkcaldy’s Old Kirk he planned to make the announcement in the immediate aftermath of the referendum.
But he added: “There was still unfinished business. I wanted to fight to ensure that the changes we had promised and the newer and stronger Scottish Parliament that we said we would deliver.
“I wanted to be absolutely certain that these changes would happen and that the new parliament would be in place before I gave the decision to stand down.”
Mr Brown made a decisive intervention in the closing stages of the referendum, pledging new powers for Holyrood in the event of a No vote and was an architect of the vow, signed by all three UK party leaders, which endorsed this. The Smith Commission was established to achieve these powers and reported last week, when it set out plans for Holyrood to gain control over income tax rates and some welfare.
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About 200 local activists including MSPs and MPs past and present were at the meeting, along with sports broadcaster Archie MacPherson and former Dunfermline manager Jim Leishman, now the Fife mayor.
They gave the former PM a standing ovation as he entered the hall, with wife Sarah and their sons Fraser and John.
“We’re not leaving Fife – it’s London that I’m leaving,” he said. “For the avoidance of any doubt I’m not going back to Westminster, not to the House of Commons after the general election and not to the House of Lords. It is Fife where our home is and where we will be, where our children John and Fraser, who are here tonight, are happily at school.
“And it’s from Fife that I will do the new and extended work as the United Nations special envoy on global education.”
He said he still held to the “belief in the moral purpose of public service” which had been imbued in him by his father, a Church of Scotland minister.
Mr Brown pledged to do “everything I can” in the coming months to secure the election of Ed Miliband as prime minister of a Labour government in next May’s general election.
And as the Tories promise a referendum on EU membership, he pledged to fight the cause of “Britain in Europe”.
He added that he will be ready to speak out and do all he could to help if “the health service needs an additional champion, if the cause of social justice needs someone else to speak up for it, if the cause of Scotland in Britain needs someone to speak for it” in the years ahead.
He added: “I will do everything in my power to play my part in securing the election of a Labour government in the Scottish Parliament election in 2016 as well – what will be a decisive moment in the future history of Scotland and I’m ready to play whatever part I can in backing up our leadership.”
He also revealed he had suffered a recurrence of the eye problems during his premiership which almost blinded him as a boy after a rugby accident – and the same surgeon saved him again.
“When I was in Downing Street and he was retired and when they discovered there were tears in my eyes, he quietly, without anyone ever knowing and the press knowing nothing, he came to help again. So Hector Chawla, who’s with us this evening, I would like to thank you.”
Newly elected First Minister Nicola Sturgeon led the tributes to Mr Brown last night. She said: “I wish Gordon Brown well. There is no doubt that he has made an enormous contribution over many years to Scottish, UK and international politics. While we have clearly had our political differences – most recently in the independence referendum – he has my very best wishes as he announces his retirement from politics and for whatever he decides to do in future.”
Mr Brown’s successor in No 10, David Cameron, said the former prime minister would “go on contributing to public life” even after he stands down. The Prime Minister said: “Gordon has given a huge amount in terms of public service and his contribution in government and in parliament. I’m sure he will go on contributing to public life after he leaves the Commons.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “Gordon has been a towering figure in politics, he has been a towering figure for the Labour Party. He will have to his credit a lot of the achievements of the Labour Party… I know he will continue to play an active part in politics in different ways.”
And former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “Like all politicians Gordon Brown will be remembered for a variety of reasons but no-one should ever forget that when the world economy stood on the abyss it was his determined action which persuaded many countries to take the cumulative steps which ensured there was not a global depression.”
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