Boris Johnson could be the last prime minister of the United Kingdom unless a fightback is launched speaking up for “mainstream” Scots and making a “progressive case” for the Union, Gordon Brown has warned.
The former prime minister has unveiled plans for new think tank, Our Scottish Future, which will set out the “social justice” case for Scotland’s continued membership of the UK.
The “two extremes” of Nationalism in Scotland and “anti-European conservatism” south of the Border was illustrated this week, Mr Brown has said, by the cross-Border row that broke out after Scotland’s horrific drugs death picture emerged, with the former UK leader saying it was holding Scotland back.
With Mr Johnson widely expected to be confirmed as the new prime minister next week, the ex-Labour leader fears the Tories “cannot be a successful vehicle” for defending the Union.
But he said: “We can win the argument if we put it – we’re patriots, not Nationalists.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is seeking to hold a second referendum on independence next year, with legislation making its way through Parliament.
“The Union is hanging by a thread unless we do something about it,” Mr Brown told The Scotsman.
“I want to stop Boris Johnson being the last prime minister of the UK – both being the prime minister and being the last.
“The Scottish debate is going to become confined to two extremes – the sort of extreme Nationalism that is now proposing the Scottish pound and leaving the single market and customs union of the UK, and this Boris Johnson anti-European conservatism, which has got no resonance in Scotland.We’ve got to put the progressive case for Scotland and Scotland’s role in Britain. The Conservatives can’t do it under Johnson and the SNP won’t do it, so we’ve got to produce these new ideas.”
Our Scottish Future’s inaugural event will be staged next month in Edinburgh, chaired by Professor Jim Gallagher, a former director-general for devolution in the Cabinet Office under Mr Brown. The event will focus on the SNP’s plans for a Scottish pound after independence, following a transitionary period of “sterlingisation”.
“To run a Scottish pound, you need massive reserves and they don’t have these reserves and to run sterlingisation, which was their first policy before the Scottish pound, it is very expensive and they haven’t factored that into any of their calculations,” Mr Brown said.
The SNP leadership suffered a defeat at the hands of party delegates at their conference last month, with official policy amended to move to a Scottish pound “as soon as practicable” after independence.
This comes on top of the cost of setting up a separate state, the loss of the Barnett formula and the national debt.
“There’s no chance of breaking free of austerity under the SNP,” Mr Brown said.
The new think tank will also seek to focus on areas where Holyrood could use its powers and the “dividend” Scotland receives in higher public through the Barnett formula – about £1,500 per head – to tackle social injustice.
The former Labour leader insisted he was not planning a political comeback, but wants to help those who want to see a “better view of Scotland”.
“We’re Scottish, but we don’t believe in breaking every connection with Britain,” he said.
“We want co-operation, not years and decades of confrontation – a never-ending them-and-us struggle.
“I’m not going to let this rest and I’m not going to allow this debate to be dominated by two extremes. You’ve got these two extremes and in my view both are unrepresentative of the mainstream of Scottish views about both the Union and about where Scotland should be going.
“The SNP plans are for independence at all costs and that will lead to hyper austerity.”
It emerged this week Scotland has the worst drugs death rate in the EU, with almost 1,200 deaths last year. But the debate became mired in political bickering between Holyrood and Westminster over powers to establish drug consumption rooms (CDRs) north of the Border.
“We had this drugs announcement, more than a thousand people dying, and within minutes its the Conservatives blaming the SNP and the SNP blaming the Conservatives,” Mr Brown said.
“We’ve got a serious issue where we should be working together.
“It’s a problem that’s got to be addressed with the government involved working together, yet all we have is this Punch and Judy show where each blames the other for what’s gone wrong.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “The prospect of a Boris Johnson-led Brexit Britain illustrates exactly why Scotland needs independence.
“People in Scotland don’t think Labour can stand up to the Tories – and the increasingly irrelevant interventions by Gordon Brown are doing nothing to change that.”