Gordon Brown: No more independence vitriol

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Picture: JP
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Picture: JP
Share this article
Have your say

SCOTLAND is a proud nation, and there is a patriotic vision for it as part of the United Kingdom, writes Gordon Brown

At THE end of a week that has seen one of our most celebrated authors, JK Rowling, under attack from cybernats, and Clare Lally, a universally lauded champion of the disabled who has been the victim of “mistakes and misjudgments” in a propaganda war, it’s time to reflect on the consequences for our national life – now and after the referendum – of any further descent into attempts at character assassination, partisan vitriol and crude distortion of the facts.

I don’t want us to wake up on Friday, 19 September, with a hangover worse than anyone has on New Year’s Day – with a dawning recognition that our debate has ignored the most profound issues that ought to have been at its heart: our deep-seated values as a nation, our hopes for the future of our children and grandchildren and our place in the global order.

Perhaps it’s my strict Presbyterian upbringing and my general disdain for superficial gestures, but I cannot even accept that a debate that focuses just on money, currencies and the levers of power does justice to the magnitude of the decision about how we chart the future of a nation of five million in an ever more interdependent and integrated world.

Small in population, we are a nation that is, historically, quite the opposite in every other aspect: big in our historic contribution to the world, big in ideas that always made us ask of any situation not just what it means to be a Scot but what it means for us as citizens of the world. We will fail our children if we don’t follow that example now.

Think about our country’s future. I take a distinctive view that I call the patriotic vision. I believe that Scotland has always been defined to the world not just by the greatness of our inventors such as John Logie Baird or scientists such as James Clerk Maxwell but by our unique and path-breaking role as the first country to work out the benefits of peaceful multinational co-operation without losing our distinctive identity.

Indeed, in the 20th century, with our support for the creation of the NHS and welfare state, Scots led a unprecedented movement to civilise an otherwise brutal industrial society by pooling and sharing risks and resources across four nations so that, irrespective of whether you were Scots, English, Welsh or Northern Irish, every citizen was guaranteed health care and support if unemployed, ill, disabled or elderly – a system of equal social and economic rights that accompany the civil and political rights of citizenship that is without parallel anywhere in the world.

Neither the European Union nor even the federal USA has managed to create such a deeply embedded and sophisticated system where the citizens of four nations guarantee to underwrite the social security of one another. And it was not an English imposition, more like a Scottish invention, Scots leaders pointing the way by seeing the wisdom of abandoning their separate Poor Law to create a multinational safety net that did not diminish Scotland’s distinctive identity.

Our Enlightenment philosophers wrote not just about what it means to be Scottish but what it means to be human. And with our three-century-long experience of partnership, Scots have a massive contribution to make in this 21st-century world of global capital flows, the global sourcing of services and goods and instantaneous world of global communications. We can again show that you can co-operate without losing your identity or soul.

What both sides in this referendum have in common is that, for all of us, Scotland is a proud nation with its own institutions and parliament, with more powers on the way. The 18 September vote is not to decide whether Scotland is a nation: we always have been. The difference lies between our patriotic vision – that even as the Scottish Parliament gets stronger it benefits from being part of a system of pooling and sharing risks and resources – as opposed to the nationalist one that believes the future lies in ending all political links with the rest of the UK. And while I set out in my new book proposals for a system that is as close to federalism as you can get in a UK, where one nation is 85 per cent of the whole, I fail to see what we gain – whether for pensions, the funding of health care, interest rates or jobs – in this ever more integrated and interdependent world, by severing all constitutional connections with neighbours in the rest of the UK.

But whatever side you are on, this debate about the best global future for Scotland should avoid not only its recent trivialisation and over-personalisation; it should avoid distortion of the facts. Yesterday, in The Scotsman online, an item erroneously labelled under News, and subsequently removed, suggested I have written my book because of “Better Together’s failure to stem the rising support for Yes Scotland”. Wholly untrue. I intervened, I stated explicitly, only because the referendum is about “the future of the children I love and the people I represent and respect”. According to the report, “Mr Brown says he was not impressed by the campaign by Better Together so far” and that “rather than landing a knockout blow, Better Together’s negative campaign has deepened division, when the opposite is needed”. Again, not true. I have not only praised Better Together, its leader Alistair Darling, called for the main debates to be Salmond v Darling but also state I have “benefited from conversations with friends in, and leaders of, Better Together”. The big debate in a country that thinks big should not start by acting small.

• Gordon Brown is MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. My Scotland, Our Britain is published next week by Simon & Schuster