Gordon Brown calls for end to Boris Johnson's 'muscular unionism'

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned Boris Johnson to drop his “muscular unionism” approach to devolution as new polling revealed people in all nations of the UK are “moving closer together” in their shared values.

Mr Brown said polling for his think-tank Our Scottish Future showed Scots wanted more co-operation rather than confrontation between the Scottish and UK governments and accused Mr Johnson of seeking to “bypass co-operation and impose his view on Scotland".

He said the Internal Market Act, the shared prosperity fund and the Prime Minister’s remark that “devolution is a disaster” amounted to Mr Johnson’s belief “we should really just be ruled by him from London”.

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Mr Brown said: “That’s got no support, in my view, in Scotland other than in the very die-hard Conservatives who will just go along with whatever Boris Johnson has to say.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

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“So we don't want muscular unionism, nor do we want the SNP stand-off. What we want is to offer the hand of co-operation and see whether you can make a success of that, as we did, in fact, with vaccination out of necessity, and to make co-operation one of the guiding principles of looking forward.

“And if Boris Johnson was to offer the hand of co-operation and it be refused, then people would know exactly who was to blame for the lack of co-operation.”

Mr Brown said as Covid progressed, people had become more concerned about jobs and social care. The polling of 2,000 people in England, 1,000 in Scotland and 500 in Wales found each nation identified making the NHS the best healthcare system in the world as their top priority.

Some 47 per cent of respondents in Wales, 42 per cent in Scotland and 41 per cent in England identified the NHS as their number one issue. Most respondents in each of the nations also identified diversity, freedom, tolerance and equality as important.

“What's the lesson I take from this for the politics? You've got to drop muscular unionism work. Conservative, muscular unionism will fail, it cannot succeed,” Mr Brown said.

“You cannot ride roughshod over local decision making. You can't ignore the need for partnership between Scotland and the UK, you can’t call devolution a disaster, you can't solve this problem by putting up more Union jacks or labelling bridges as British and bypassing the democratic institutions that exist.

“It's basically a failure, the same as the Nationalist failure, to recognise that people should not have to choose between being Scottish and British.”

The polling showed there was 40 per cent of the Scottish electorate, which Mr Brown has branded “Middle Scotland”, which felt slightly more Scottish than British, but did not yet support independence. Thirty per cent were supportive of the union, while 30 per cent backed independence.

The survey also revealed that if independence supporters believed England was tolerant and respectful of diversity and race, they would feel “warmer” towards the country.

Further, if England was represented by the values of people such as national football manager Gareth Southgate and footballer Marcus Rashford, instead of Mr Johnson’s government, 53 per cent of Nationalists said they would feel more positive towards England.

Mr Brown said the findings overall made it harder for those in support of independence for either country to argue there are significant differences from other parts of the UK and the nations are “moving closer together, not further apart”.

He said: “There is a danger that the next general election in Britain will be formed as a battle between a Conservative party that makes the future of the union the issue, and plays an English card and says Scottish nationalism is preventing Britain moving forward, and then claims Labour will make a pact with the SNP, which, of course, is a lie, but claims and continues to claim that.

"And then you have an election fought on Scotland versus England or Scotland versus Britain. And that that's a real possibility.

“To fight on the Scottish issue is an option open to Boris Johnson, and that plays into hands of Nicola Sturgeon. But I think that what's going to happen is that some of these bigger issues in terms of social and economic policies are going to come to the forefront. And people will start to understand the importance of co-operation.

“Now Nicola Sturgeon has picked up on co-operation in her conference speech because she’s been reading the same polls on people wanting co-operation, but did so in the most ridiculous way, that co-operation is on making Scotland independent, not on the issues that worry people at all.”

The polling also found that a dignified retirement for older people, tackling climate change and fighting inequality were all high on the list of priorities, while just 20 per cent of Scottish respondents identified referendums on independence north of the border or in Wales as a top priority. This dropped to 9 per cent among Welsh respondents.

Mr Brown said the results contradicted the SNP’s “central argument for the break-up of Britain – that we cannot be Scottish and British or Welsh and British at the same time”.

“When it comes to values, there is across England, Scotland and Wales similar levels of support for equality and tolerance, and for diversity, with the same levels of support for giving priority to the NHS, good jobs and climate change,” the former prime minister said.

“In their values and choice of priorities, Scotland and England and Wales are moving closer together, not further apart.”

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