By Matthew Barrett
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Gordon Brown has made another of his occasional appearances in British public life. The former Prime Minister appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, to give the Donald Dewar lecture. Brown used his speech to make a three-headed argument:
- Team GB's "pooled resources" achieved exceptional results, whereas an independent Scottish or English team would not have
- The Union has made possible a number of shared institutions, such as the NHS, BBC and armed forces
- The Union has made Britain a more "fair" and "equal" society
On the first and second point, Brown said:
"One thing I take from the Olympics, a point that Sir Chris Hoy has already made for me – when we pool and share resources for the common good the benefit is far greater than would have occurred if we'd just added up the sum of the parts. So the National Health Service is common insurance policy … the BBC, shared across the United Kingdom. The armed forces, so you don't have a Scottish, a Welsh and an English army. The Olympics it is pretty clear – we managed to do it in cycling with pooled resources – if you had just divided the money and put a tenth to Scotland and a tenth to Yorkshire, you could not have achieved the same results we did."
Brown's Team GB point is a reasonable one. But Alex Salmond won't mind riding out the pro-Team GB sentiments at the moment. In 2014, the SNP administration will host the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and will attempt to recreate some of the London 2012 Boris buzz by showing it can hold a successful sporting event. The fact that in the Commonwealth Games the Home Nations compete as England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be a coup for Salmond, who must be praying for Sir Chris Hoy to make his final big-event appearance in Scottish colours.
Brown's comments regarding the fiscal policy of the Union have attracted a little more attention this morning. Brown argued that breaking up the "fiscal union" would mean that in Scotland "you will either have to cut public expenditure enormously, beyond what is already being done, or you are going to have tax Scottish people more. Fiscal autonomy means more taxes in Scotland."
In addition, there would be "regionally varied minimum wages, and a race to the bottom, with one unit trying to undercut the other. Break up and you will have different social security rates but you will end with pensioners being treated completely differently in different parts of Britain, or unemployed or disabled people. And people will think that's not progress, that's moving backwards."
This may well be the kind of campaigning strategy Labour uses to convince Scots to stick with the Union. Polling currently shows Scotland is likely to reject Salmond's independence referendum, and Brown's scare-tactic predictions may well seal the deal, but equally may work against the Unionist campaign.
It may well be true that an independent Scotland could opt to pay less in unemployment benefit, but that depends on President Salmond's priorities. It's not true to say that independence would automatically mean a worse deal for the vulnerable in society, and I don't think most people would be more likely to vote for a side of a referendum which says independence for Scotland will punish the disabled or elderly.