My own back-of-envelope masterplan goes like this. First, the Labour party makes itself electable, which it has carelessly neglected to do since 2008 but is making encouraging progress towards. Second, get elected.
Third, govern with the radicalism of Attlee, Wilson and Blair, making irreversible changes that will benefit working people and their families for generations to come from Unst to Land’s End; modernise the government of Britain and generally give politics a good name.
Fourth, if there is still significant demand for a Scottish independence referendum, hold one with the result binding on both sides. Fifth, at that point spell out the economic realities of division and benefits of unity, then let people decide. Sixth, for heaven’s sake, move on.
If Labour blows it and step two is not achieved, move straight to step five as the essential prerequisite for step six. That is the crucial one if Scotland is ever to emerge from the debilitating rut in which we are stuck, run by people with a vested interest in failure and very good at achieving it.
I am quite encouraged by indications that more rational voices on the other side of the constitutional debate are thinking along roughly similar lines. They too recognise a dead-end when they see one. Our expectations about how “step five” might work out will differ but that’s the stuff of honest, future debate.
The alternative is all based on pretence. Pretence that shouting loud enough will make the walls come tumbling down. Pretence there will be a referendum. Pretence there will be a “de facto referendum”. And at the end of that, absolutely nothing will have changed – except the rut will be deeper, the hospital queues longer and the poor poorer.
Gordon Brown’s proposals this week contain a lot of good stuff. He rightly argues that the structures of government are far from being a dry, stand-alone issue. Sterile, lop-sided government – whether in Scotland or the UK – contributes directly to economic stagnation and deepening social division.
In fairness, the Tories acknowledged this through the emergence in England of elected mayors with enhanced powers and budgets. The Levelling Up agenda is right in principle but needs a far deeper ideological shift than will ever be produced under a government tied to wealth that resides disproportionately in the south.
Brown’s paper argues correctly that much more could be achieved through governments working together within the devolved framework. The problem is that this can only happen if there are shared objectives about how to make things work, rather than picking fights about nothing while potential is squandered and opportunities missed.
There is no indication the SNP leadership will change its ways in this respect without clear evidence that people are looking for alternatives that make the best of what we have got. It is up to Labour to spend the next two years convincing critical numbers of open-minded voters that the politics of delivery and co-operation offer more than a culture of permanent grievance.
Most headlines around the Brown report have been about replacing the House of Lords with an elected revising chamber that reflects the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. I have never quite understood why, after a good start, the last Labour government did not carry on with this commitment. Next time, it must do so.
Far from being an irrelevance to wider social and economic objectives, the Lords is the apex of a social pyramid formed by privilege, patronage and wealth. Apart from the democratic argument, the symbolism of reform would be powerful. There is simply no argument against it.
I am all in favour of an independent element in a reformed chamber as well as a geographic and social spread. However, anyone who does not understand the political significance of removing “Lords” and “Baronesses” from our political lexicon does not understand the nature of politics itself.