Gordon Brown: Use time before indyref2 to push for constitutional change
The UK Government must put forward plans for constitutional change between now and a second referendum on Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has said.
The former Labour prime minister urged Boris Johnson to immediately set up a constitutional inquiry and a forum for the nations and regions of the UK, and to build cooperation between the two governments.
Criticising Johnson’s “muscular unionism”, he warned that the UK Government would be unsuccessful at keeping the UK together if it was “at war with a large part” of the country.
And he said the question on the ballot at the next Scottish referendum should be between “change within the United Kingdom or change by leaving the United Kingdom”.
He said: “There’s not going to be a referendum for some time, it’s almost off the agenda for the time being. And therefore this gives us a chance. You can look at the future of the United Kingdom. We’ve got to get cooperation and whether it could be enhanced. All these issues can now be raised.”
His comments come as think tank Our Scottish Future – which Brown founded – published results of a poll which found 73 per cent of respondents wanted better cooperation between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The poll took place in the two days following last week’s election, which saw the SNP gain the most seats in the Scottish Parliament.
Brown said if the SNP chooses not to cooperate with the UK Government as it looks to make changes to the UK, “they will be shown not to be acting in the interests of the Scottish people.”
He said: “It will be clear that in many instances cooperation with the rest of the UK is in the people of Scotland’s interest.
“It was proven to be so in the case of vaccination: UK purchasing and Scottish delivery. It didn’t work in the case of testing because Scotland tried to do it on its own and it wasn’t very successful, and then they had to rely on UK facilities for some of the testing that was done.
“So, the question that the SNP have got to address is, if they are about governing for the people of Scotland, then sometimes it must be in the interest of Scotland to cooperate with the rest of the United Kingdom.”
He also said the UK would “fall or survive” on the views of “middle Scotland” – the roughly 40 per cent of people who are neither staunch nationalists nor committed unionists.
He warned this group of people would back Scotland between a choice of Scotland and Britain, but that most would rather not have to choose at all.
Expecting a fresh vote on independence not to occur for a few more years while the UK recovers from the pandemic, Brown said the UK Government must use this time to consider constitutional reform to ensure that question on the ballot is not a choice between independence or the status quo.
Sturgeon has said she hopes to hold a vote by the end of 2023, after the immediacy of the pandemic has passed.
Speaking on Saturday, she said: “There is simply no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson, or indeed for anyone else, seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our own future.”
But in an interview with the Daily Telegraph at the weekend Johnson said a referendum “in the current context is irresponsible and reckless” and indicated approval through a Section 30 order would not be forthcoming.
Earlier today, Michael Gove refused to rule out taking the Scottish Government to court if it pushes ahead with legislation for a second independence referendum in the Scottish Parliament.
Brown urged both governments to publish their legal advice on the matter.
He said: “In an open, transparent democracy, that legal advice should be on the table and that should tell us whether Nicola Sturgeon is planning a wildcat referendum or a Catalonia style referendum when she makes the comments she’s doing.
“The legal advice has got to be published, both the Scottish advice and the UK advice, and then people would know where we are.”