Scottish independence: GORDON Brown has insisted that promises made to Scotland on further devolution will be upheld as he urged the country to come together after the bitter independence debate and find “unity against the odds”.
In a speech in Fife yesterday the former prime minister, who has spearheaded an accelerated timetable for Holyrood to get more substantive powers, said he would ensure the commitment given by the leaders of the three main Westminster parties is adhered to.
Nationalists have already raised concerns that the schedule Brown set out for further devolution will not be met.
In his resignation statement, Alex Salmond said he had been dismayed that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, would not commit to a second reading vote on 27 March in the House of Commons.
But Brown said he would “ensure” that further devolution was delivered when he spoke just two days after the referendum.
Brown said: “The promises that were made last week about change, about the delivery of further devolution, must be, and I believe, and will ensure, will be delivered.
“The eyes of the world have been upon us and now I think the eyes of the world are upon the leaders of the major parties of the United Kingdom.
“These are men who had been promise makers, and they will not be promise breakers, and I will ensure that these promises that have been made are upheld.”
Brown, the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said a resolution had been issued which would be placed in the Commons tomorrow, which had been signed by him, Cameron, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
The resolution calls on the government to lay down a command paper taking in the devolution proposals from the three different parties by the end of next month, and for draft clauses of a new Scotland Bill to be ready by the end of January.
All three pro-Union parties formed bodies to look at empowering the Scottish Parliament and have come to similar if differing conclusions. All three want to see more powers over income tax and benefits, including housing benefit, come to Scotland. However, a common position has yet to be thrashed out.
Yesterday there were signs, ahead of the Labour Party conference in Manchester, that some Labour figures wanted the party to strengthen its proposals.
The former Glasgow MSP Pauline McNeil, who remains an approved Labour candidate, said: “Given the result of the referendum, there’s a
recognition that people want the parliament to be more powerful over the redistribution of wealth, and that could mean refreshing things and being open-minded.
“There needs to be a distinctive Labour voice, and where it’s got to be refreshed, we’ve got to be open-minded about looking at what are the right powers.
“Welfare benefits should probably be devolved in relation to jobs.”
Brown told an audience at Dalgety Bay Primary School in Fife: “I can ensure you that this promise that people were doubting on the airwaves and on the Twittersphere last night, the civil service are already working on the proposals. Decision day was Thursday, delivery day started on Friday. They are working on the timetable but also on the detailed plans so that the publication will indeed be the end of October.”
He added: “To ensure that they are locked in and ensure that there is proper scrutiny, so everybody knows this deadline will be adhered to, I have called, with the permission of the Speaker of the House of Commons, a debate in the House of Commons which will take place in the first week back at Westminster on Thursday, 16 October.
“In that debate I will want to ensure that the instructions to deliver have become a plan to deliver, and not just a time-
table to deliver but a certainty that we will deliver.”
He insisted: “I am utterly convinced that whatever else happens, I am absolutely sure that unconditionally the timetable that I set out, that will be delivered.”
Brown played a key role in the campaign for a No vote in the referendum, but yesterday he insisted he was not planning a comeback to frontline politics.
“I’m too old to be the comeback kid,” he said. “And I’m too young to be an elder statesman.”
He said the referendum campaign had been the “longest campaign we have seen in modern history”, adding there were “the fiercest of arguments, at points some of the most divisive issues were raised”.
He stressed it was time for Scotland to come together after Thursday’s historic vote.
Brown said: “There is a time to fight but there is time to unite, and this is the time for Scotland to unite.”
He added that after “all the acrimony, after much which I think is distasteful – the abuse, insults, intimidation and threats”, it was now time to find “unity against the odds”.
Urging the two opposing camps to come together, he said: “I would make a plea this morning, that the Yes and No posters, let’s throw them away. That the Yes and No stickers, let’s cast them aside and consign them to the history books.
“And let us think of ourselves no more as pro-independence and anti-independence, let us think of ourselves no more as simply patriots or nationalists, let us think of ourselves not as Yes Scots or No Scots, let us think of ourselves, all of us, simply as Scots, and united, let us be a nation again.”
He said the new powers coming to Scotland would mean that in the future there “could be no bedroom tax imposed on Scotland ever again, there could be no poll tax imposed on Scotland again”.
While he said there was now a “deep desire” for change, he added: “The change that is going to happen in my view can meet the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the Scottish people.”
Brown also stressed the need for the governments in Edinburgh and London to work together, not just on devolution but on the major issues facing Scotland.
“There is no way forward other than co-operation between the Scottish and UK government to deal with the problems of jobs, young people’s skills, opportunities for the future and economic change,” he said.
“Instead of this stand-off, instead of them talking to themselves but not each other, instead of this war of attrition between a Scottish government and a UK government, let them both get together, let them address the economic challenges of Scotland together. I hope the government of Scotland and the government of the United Kingdom will come together, not just to deliver the devolution we have been promised but to deal with basic social and economic challenges that we can only address if we do them together.”
The SNP, however, were unimpressed by Brown’s speech. The SNP MSP David Torrance said: “From the promises he was making, you could easily forget that Gordon Brown is just a backbench politician.
“Better Together told the Scottish electorate that a motion would be presented to parliament on Friday, 19 September, on giving more powers to Scotland – a promise which has already been broken.
“And we know David Cameron hasn’t agreed to a second reading on the issue in Westminster before Easter, as also promised by Mr Brown.
“The reality for Scotland is that our timetable for more devolution is now defined by Westminster, and not ourselves. Gordon Brown’s reputation is in tartan tatters.”