Leaders: Gordon Brown points way forward

Speeches by Gordon Brown were hugely important to the Better Together campaign. Picture: JP
Speeches by Gordon Brown were hugely important to the Better Together campaign. Picture: JP
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Call for a powerhouse parliament could be wake-up call Labour needs

GORDON Brown adopted a low profile approach to life after his tenure as Prime Minister, doing some charity work, writing, simply being an MP. Until, that was, the final stages of the independence referendum campaign when this particular Labour big beast was roused from his slumbers.

Thunderous speeches by Brown were hugely important to the Better Together campaign. He reached out to traditional Labour voters who might have been tempted to vote Yes.

Having made his case for Labour as a party of social justice, Brown went further. In a quite extraordinary turn of events, the former Prime Minister promised the timetabled delivery to Holyrood of more powers on tax and borrowing by next January if Scotland voted No.

It was not entirely clear on whose authority, other than his own, Brown spoke, but Prime Minister David Cameron quickly offered his support to his predecessor’s promise.

Brown claimed during the referendum campaign that his interventions should not be taken as an indication that he planned a return to frontline politics.

His demand, yesterday, that Westminster’s unionist parties should agree a package of powers that go beyond any current proposals suggests that Brown might have decided the frontline’s not so bad. He called on pro-devolution parties to take a “radical way forward” by agreeing a “powerhouse” parliament that would be responsible for raising 54 per cent of its own revenue.

In the week to come, there will be two Westminster debates about the enhanced devolution offer. Brown’s words should be heeded by all unionist politicians who participate.

The former PM’s interventions in the referendum debate were bold and authoritative. He seized the initiative from complacent unionist colleagues who struggled to find a positive story to tell about a No vote.

As supporters of an empowered Scottish Parliament, we welcome Brown’s latest contribution to this process. He understands that failure to provide appreciable new powers to Holyrood would be a betrayal of voters and, thus, disastrous for unionist parties.

This process demands politicians be bold. Brown is leading by example with proposals that could deliver a real shift in power from Westminster to Holyrood.

But while we welcome Brown’s decision to take a leading role in the debate, we are bound to reflect on the reason this was necessary. Scottish Labour may have been on the winning side during the referendum, but it doesn’t look at all like a winning party.

Labour seems lost, devoid of ideas and energy, endlessly playing a pointless, unwinnable game of catch-up with the SNP. Perhaps Brown might not have felt his latest intervention necessary had any current frontline Labour politician had the gumption to see that this was an issue that the party simply must be seen to lead on.

The SNP will find flaws with whatever settlement comes but, if Labour is to start picking itself up in Scotland, then it will have to be able to point to – and take credit for – substantial new powers.

Scottish Labour has a challenge ahead in preventing those among its traditional support who voted Yes in the referendum from switching their loyalties to the SNP. Brown’s intervention recognises the seriousness of that threat to Labour and – by extension – to the no voting majority.

There will be difficult choices ahead for all participants in the Smith Commission. But Labour and Conservative members, in particular, must be prepared to make compromises that might seem counter-intuitive.

Only truly substantial proposals for the future powers of the Scottish Parliament will do.

No place on train for anti-social behaviour

IT’S a tradition that too many of us have been forced to witness down the years. After weeks offshore, denied the pleasure of the occasional dram, a great many oil workers mark their return to the mainland by making up for lost drinking.

The results are often unpleasant, not least for those who’ve had to share a train carriage with a group, back on dry land and determined to get drunk before departing Aberdeen station. As can after can is cracked, the voices get louder, the language more coarse.

In the last six months, there have been more police incidents involving offshore workers on trains than there were during the previous year.

Officers have dealt with cases of passengers being abused and train staff threatened. And there have been incidents were trains were delayed while police were called to remove drunken offshore workers.

A decision by British Transport Police to increase patrols on trains carrying offshore workers is welcome but long overdue.

Disturbingly, during patrols, officers have discovered that anti-social drunkenness is not confined to groups returning home. On some occasions, police have had to deal with drunks heading to catch helicopters to their rigs, despite rules prohibiting alcohol consumption among those working on North Sea platforms.

Passengers and police are not alone in condemning the behaviour of this relentlessly troublesome minority of workers. The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union has complained of “friendly fire” inflicted on train staff by fellow members of the union. One official described how train staff from both Edinburgh and Aberdeen had been threatened by offshore workers, also represented by the RMT.

But there is only so much that either the police or the union can do. Real change will only come with a cultural shift directed by the industry.

This must mean zero tolerance of any anti-social behaviour by staff travelling to or from jobs offshore. Drunkenness such as police have described should be cause for instant dismissal.

We understand that working on a North Sea platform is dangerous and highly pressured and the temptation to let off steam must be great. But that’s no excuse for inflicting misery on others.