At the dawn of devolution, many in the Labour Party thought it would reduce the SNP’s appeal, but others took the opposite view. West Lothian MP Sir Tam Dalyell described it as “a motorway to independence with no exit routes”.
Sir Tam’s fears appear to have been well founded. Since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999, the SNP has been in power for 15 consecutive years. Their opponents accuse them of using their dominance primarily to advance independence, working against Westminster rather than with it, to the detriment of good government.
Positioning themselves as a party of opposition, wherever possible blaming London-based politicians for problems in Scotland, has worked well electorally for the SNP. And on independence the nation is now, if anything, even more divided than it was in 2014.
In 2020, Mr Brown conceded he and fellow former Labour prime minister Sir Tony Blair were “naive” to believe devolution would strengthen the Union, while Tory premier Boris Johnson described it as a “disaster” and “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”.
Many believe David Cameron made a strategic error ahead of the referendum by ruling out a third option, rather than simply “Yes” or “No”, and that a consensus could be built around the case for handing greater powers to Holyrood.
As the polls narrowed through 2014, the “Vow” secured exactly that but has been viewed with deep suspicion by Nationalists ever since, despite delivering controls over welfare and income tax.
It will not be long before it becomes apparent how Mr Brown’s plans will work in practice as it is likely Labour and Sir Keir Starmer will win the next General Election.
Decentralisation across the UK, elected Scottish mayors and provosts, and an elected second chamber at Westminster could win Labour back many supporters who have switched to the SNP over the past 15 years.
In which case, Mr Brown’s blueprint could prove to be the exit route Sir Tam feared did not exist on the motorway to independence.