WHAT to think about Gordon Brown? He’s a challenge and I feel many conflicts even thinking about him. As is good for your health and general karma, let’s start with the ‘likes’.
He has devoted his whole adult life to public service, all of it. Clever man, up to a point. Motivated properly? Let us assume yes. I think doubting the motivation of political leaders is the road to ruin. With some obvious exceptions let us always believe they are in ‘the game’ for the best of reasons. Know what? They almost always are.
His passion, charisma and abilities are clear. One of the top public servants of his generation. Willing to reform institutions and policies, and take the risks all leaders must. Again, up to a point.
What of the ‘like lesses’? Well, for a figure who has been at the top of public life for so long it is easy to be a critic. No attraction for me in that.
But I cast a very cold eye on people who take down their erstwhile friends and his consistently poor treatment of Alistair Darling has long struck me as just fundamentally wrong. And it points to an attitude to life that bothers me. The attitude that ‘it’s about me’ and, ‘I am not open to challenge’.
As a leader he is of the very old-fashioned type. I will tell you what to think; what to do; I am right; I am benign; I will protect you. Be thankful. This may have worked on a grateful nation in decades past. Not now.
We need our leaders to be open about their fragilities and doubts. Open minded to challenge and willing to map a route through complex problems. We want deals done in public, not smoke-filled rooms. And we don’t want to be taken for fools.
On Scotland he has long seemed uninterested to me, irked at the challenges in his fiefdom. Devolution was a scheme to be managed rather than embraced. Meantime I see only conflict, confusion and an aching lack of principled foundation to the contributions he is making so far.
He clearly feels played for a fool by the prime minster, proofing his speeches one moment only to be turned over the morning after the referendum by the idea of English Votes for English Laws (Evel). I understand his anxiety, but why didn’t he see it coming? It suggests a man overextending without support, overly certain of himself, and with a mind closed to challenge and advice.
Brown is left angered and sounding just odd. Accusing the Tories of being both “anti-Scottish and anti-British” last week was strange sounding and plainly impossible. It just didn’t ring true to genuine people.
He rages next against the devolution of income tax. He is happy to see top rates go up in Scotland not down. Make sense? Not a bit.
His logic has the artful Whitehall ring of sense: “There is no democratic state in the world, federal or otherwise, where one part of the country pays its income tax to the national government and another part does not.”
Like many Brownian homilies it makes you nod for a moment before shaking your head and saying, “hang on”. There is no democratic state anywhere in the world that is like the UK in structure or form. Not one with different nations in union with an unwritten constitution and a majority of UK Parliamentarians unelected. Not one with the live challenge to how we are governed that now resonates everywhere. Time to think differently.
What is clear from all of his statements is Gordon Brown would like to deploy the tricks he learned in the Nineties. Misdirection and spin took us to an illegal war that has deadly consequences still. And the economy? Well, look around you.
Once again he seems to see us all as chess pieces, apparently oblivious to his own strings being pulled by his mortal enemy in Downing Street. He will talk about reform and empowering the Scottish Parliament while doing the precise opposite.
His core concern now seems to be about maintaining Labour’s influence at Westminster (such as it is) and putting a lid on Scottish ambition. In his pomp he could pull this off. Those days are long gone.
The opportunity for this deeply talented, capable and driven public servant is clear to me. He can rescue his place in history by changing not just the way he thinks about Scotland and its politics, but how he leads.
He has what it takes to work with others to create a truly strong package of responsibilities for Scotland that will transform Holyrood’s culture to make it more financially and economically responsible and capable.
Holyrood may then even be important enough to play host to him as the challenger to Nicola Sturgeon, something I am certain she would relish.
This means resetting fundamentally how Britain works. It may be unique in the world. Why would he be afraid of that?
Everything around him is changing. No politician can control in the way he would clearly love to. Can he modernise himself and truly help his country’s next step or are we just hearing the last cries of the once-great dinosaurs? Let’s see.