When Gordon Brown does step down from the political stage, it will be the passing of an era in Scottish and UK politics. The Scottish Labour party has produced a few big political beasts, but none as big as he, neither does it seem likely to do so again any time soon.
His rise to the party’s top echelons – becoming the party’s shadow chancellor within six years of first being elected to Westminster – tells its own story of the formidable intellect and campaigning ability that marked him out as a star within a party reluctant to acknowledge stars.
Even four years after Britain’s voters decided they didn’t want him as prime minister, his power to persuade and influence became as relevant as ever during the last days of September’s independence referendum.
Not only did he persuade a Labour opposition leader to join with a Conservative prime minister and his Liberal Democrat deputy in a “vow” to the Scottish people that the Scottish parliament would have “extensive” new powers, but his last speeches were credited with turning a crucial number of waverers to vote No.
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Neither has his been a gilded career. As he set out in his book written in the dog days after he lost the premiership, his family endured much privation in Fife in many years of precarious farm labouring and tenanting. Although Mr Brown’s father rose to become a minister of the Kirk, this did not present a wide open door to success for him and his two brothers.
Only by ambition and hard work did he manage to turn his ambition for political power into reality.
And neither did he seek political power for its own sake – grand mansions and other trappings of status or wealth are entirely absent – but only for the improvements that he could bring to the lives of people less fortunate than himself.
Mr Brown was by no means the perfect politician – that individual has yet to be born. He gave enormous loyalty to the Labour Party and its leaders, until the falling out with Tony Blair. He demanded even more loyalty from those around him, which turned into the failing of being too ready to interpret disagreement as disloyalty and of even seeking demonstrations of disloyalty to Mr Blair as a measure of supporters’ loyalty to himself.
This created acid tension at the heart of new Labour, of which he was just as much a creator as Mr Blair and Peter (now Lord) Mandelson, which eventually corroded the most successful political creation modern British politics had seen.
But still, when he has departed elected politics next May, Scottish Labour will have lost its most powerful voice.
He has too much energy and ability still to be completely silent so he will surely remain a passionate advocate and ambassador for Scotland. Most Scots will be grateful for that.
A prescription for saving millions
HOw remarkable is it that, when the NHS is habitually described as cash-starved, when efficiencies are continuously demanded of it, it habitually gives away millions of pounds worth of equipment that may get used for a short while before it is then simply abandoned?
That is one conclusion from the results of an amnesty recently held by NHS Highland which appealed for wheelchairs, crutches and other sorts of equipment given to patients to aid their recovery when discharged from hospital care to be returned if no longer needed. An astounding 282 wheelchairs, which would have cost more than £100,000 to buy new, were returned. Add in the other items, such as crutches and raised toilet seats, scale up this experience to all of Scotland, and it is not impossible that the value of now unwanted NHS equipment in garages, sheds and cupboards reaches into the millions.
As NHS Highland now intends, much of this material can be refurbished and re-used. If this experiment, which NHS Highland is to be congratulated on, was to be repeated across Scotland, how much more could be saved?
But further questions should be asked. If patients requiring such things as wheelchairs were required to pay a deposit, refundable on the item’s return regardless of its condition, would that save a small fortune which could be used for other aspects of patient care?
And if there is an attitude of carelessness towards this equipment, does that attitude also extend to other and perhaps more expensive pieces of kit which are routinely used in hospital wards, such as blood pressure testing machines and heart monitors? Every avenue which could prevent unnecessary spending needs to be explored.
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