Monday 13 August 2012

Gordon Brown on Scotland's future

Here are some extracts from Gordon Brown’s speech on the future of Scotland, delivered at the Edinburgh Book Festival this afternoon.

It was the former Prime Minister’s first foray into the Independence debate since leaving office, and in a quiet political August people will want to pore over his words.

I’ll leave line by line analysis to others, but in quick reading of his fairly dense Donald Dewar memorial lecture Brown has breathed some intellectual life into the increasingly stale yah-boo of the daily political process.

Gordon Brown coming out in support of the Union is not be a surprise. But his call to raise the debate on Scotland’s future to a new level should be welcomed on all sides.
He accepts that the reasons the UK was formed may be historic, but forged from three centuries of common endeavour is one of the most modern political unions on the planet.

If England brought order, liberty and individual responsibility to the Union them Scotland brought values that have always been part of Scottish politics and culture - equality of opportunity, an emphasis on education, and a sense of common obligation to our community.

If Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony gave artistic expression to that unique mix, a shared sense of Britishness with the NHS at its heart, then Gordon Brown’s lecture gives it high-brow clarity.

But he says the decision on independence has to be about what will happen to Scotland in the future - not what happened in the past.

He goes on to point out that by sharing not just values, but risks and responsibilities, Britain is better off socially than many other countries.

Brown argues that competition between neighbouring nations, and even within nations like the USA, has left other countries with a far greater gulf between rich and poor than Britain has.

Far from leaving the UK, Scotland leads the UK with progressive values, says Brown, and in an interdependent world it has all the advantages over competitors.

That said, the case for the UK does not always have to be articulated by politicians in lectures. Through a festival of incredible sporting prowess the advantage of different parts of small island nation coming together sharing in the joy, the tears and the frustration of competition was clear to one and all.

The script for the UK  has largely written itself in the last two weeks. Here are extracts of Gordon Brown's contribution:

“It is no criticism of the discussion so far to say that, in the next two years as we approach a referendum, the debate about Scotland’s future must rise to a new level.

The future of Scotland - and the fate and fortune of the Scottish people - is too serious - and the jobs of too many people, the livelihoods of too many families, the prospects for too many young people too important - for the arguments of the next two years to be anything other than substantive.

Indeed if we are to avoid the kind of destabilising decade that hit Quebec and its prospects of economic success, and avoid perpetual demands for a succession of referenda, we must take care to construct our constitutional arrangements on the strongest and most enduring foundation.

And so I would suggest that, if we are to do justice to the seriousness of the issues at stake, the debate must start from first principles; be rooted in what really matters to us as Scots; focus on the future not the past; seek to understand how after a half century that has seen not only the loss of empire, and the creation of the European Union but a shift of the centre of economic gravity towards Asia and the birth of a far more interdependent world, notions of nationhood and sovereignty are in flux not just in Britain but almost everywhere; and ask whether in a more interdependent world where barriers are being dismantled everywhere, what new barriers, if any, make sense.


Of course the British Union was forged and grew when Scotland and England had shared religious objectives, when they sought to share the benefits of empire, and when they had shared interests in European wars.

Now that religion, empire and war in Europe are not any longer the decisive forces, some have argued that the ties that bind us are so frayed that the Union no longer has a purpose. But in fact the real issue is not what the old case for the union was - and how much of it endures - but whether there is a modern case for the Union.


We can of course found the modern case for Britain on the success of shared institutions, on kith and kin because of intermarriage, on our interdependence, on common security and defence needs and on shared economic and environmental challenges.

But I want to start the debate on Scotland’s future from where Scottish people are, from our distinctive Scottish beliefs and how these shape the Union we know today.

And I want to suggest that what we brought to the Union - Scottish ideas of justice and community - when, side by side with traditional English ideas of ordered liberty and individualism, created a British political social and economic settlement which is unique to multinational arrangements anywhere in the world.

Scottish values have, of course, traditionally been best expressed as what is often called ‘the democratic intellect’ - the belief that human dignity is achieved not just by educational opportunity open to all but by a culture open not just to an elite but to everyone, and by the cultivation not just of manners but of our critical faculties by looking at things from first principles.

And there is a second distinctively Scottish idea which became prominent in the Scots enlightenment - the idea of civil society, of a community where we have mutual obligations to each other and where there is a moral core to the public realm.

I would suggest that these distinctive Scottish values which have emphasised justice and community have been vital not only in shaping Scottish society but in shaping the British Union.



For as a result of our interaction with English ideas beliefs, we have established for every citizen of Great Britain not just common political rights but common social and economic rights, something neither the United States of America nor the European Union have fully achieved.

Indeed irrespective of whether you are Scottish, Welsh or English or Northern Irish you will have the same basic insurance against unemployment disability and old age.

Because we have established common economic rights as well as social rights, one part of the UK will in the event of an economic or social disaster have the right to help from the other parts and indeed when the Scottish banks failed the whole of Britain did not question the need to help.


And because of the distinctive ideas that have shaped it, the Union pools and shares risks and resources right across Britain. Pooling and sharing our resources - through a national insurance and taxation system - has made possible a National Health Service where, while we have distinctive forms of local management, the risks of expensive health care are pooled and shared across the UK.

We can point also to the BBC with a common license fee and the armed forces where we are clearly better protected because we pool our expertise and resources -and this week, of all weeks, we can point to all our Scottish Olympic medals - where it is clear from the views of the athletes themselves that a British team (pooling and sharing resources and expertise) was the best platform upon which Scotland’s (and every nation’s and region’s) success was built.


In other multinational states like the European Union, these common social and economic rights - and this pooling and sharing of resources - does not exist to the same degree.

So, as the tables show, inequalities between nations in Europe are so deep that the typical citizen of the richest state Luxembourg has six times the income of the poorest, Bulgaria. And the reason for the difference with Britain is that we have created a social market while Europe still has little more than a single market. And then in Asia, as the tables also show, the gulf between nations on the same continent is so glaring that the richest country has income levels per citizen more than thirty eight times that of the poorest.

Even in the USA, as the enclosed table shows, a federal state which is made up of regions not nations, inequalities are greater with the typical citizen of the richest state earning more than twice the income of their neighbour in the poorest.

I mention all these federal and multinational states to show the uniqueness of what has been achieved in Britain. Inequalities between Scotland and England have narrowed to the point that the typical Scottish citizen has an income of over 20,000 a year just like the English citizen and Scottish GDP per head is 96 per cent of English GDP per head.

And even when we look at states which border each other like Mexico and the USA, Singapore and Malaysia, and Spain and Morocco there is no natural tendency to converge.

Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland stand out as countries that have done more than anyone to minimise the differences in average income per head. We have a long way to go if we are to reduce inequalities within each nation but we have gone a long way in minimising inequalities between each nation within the British Union.

We have done so in a progressive way by establishing minimum legal rights of citizenship; then common and equal social rights of citizenship; then common and equal economic rights of citizenship; and from the pooling and sharing of risks and resources.


I suggest that if through some version of independence we break this apart and set nationally or regionally varied minimum pay rates, nationally varied corporation tax rates and nationally varied social security rates we will start a race to the bottom under which the good provider in one area would be undercut by the bad and the bad would be undercut by the worst.

Because the whole purpose of the break up would be to end the pooling and sharing of resources and legislate for different social and economic rights, the equal rights of citizenship we have built from values we hold in common would come to an end. If we mean by ‘social union’ shared social rights of citizenship, there could be no ‘social union’ after an economic break-up.


So we find that modern Britain is founded on something more important than old sentiment, self interest, temporary advantage, or short-lived tides of emotion - but on shared values – and that these values have not only shaped the Britain we know but can shape the multinational arrangements of the future.

Indeed Britain may yet become a beacon for all those nations across every continent who need to find a way of living together in a multinational world where, more and more, people of different ethnic backgrounds will have to find ways of co-existing side by side.