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Union on life support, warns Brown

Published 12/06/2015

Gordon Brown has condemned what he called 'divide and rule' tactics being used by the Tories
Gordon Brown has condemned what he called 'divide and rule' tactics being used by the Tories

Gordon Brown has accused the Conservatives of "starting to give up on Scotland" as he claimed the English nationalism adopted by David Cameron's party has left the union on "life support".

The former prime minister condemned the "divide and rule" tactics being used by the Tories, arguing that plans for English votes for English laws would "make Scots second-class MPs in the House of Commons".

While he insisted support for independence had not increased since last year's referendum, despite the SNP's dramatic general election success, he called for a constitutional convention to be set up which would make clear the rights and responsibilities of citizens in the different parts of the UK.

This could even help the "battered forces of progressive opinion" to regroup in the aftermath of the Tories' shock majority victory last month.

Mr Brown, who stepped down from the House of Commons at the election, had criticised the Conservatives during the campaign, accusing them of raising fears south of the border about a possible post-election deal between Labour and the SNP.

He warned in a new article written for the Guardian: " If the United Kingdom collapses, it will not be because a majority of Scots are hell-bent on leaving but because the UK Government is giving up on saving it.

"No union can survive without unionists and, after an election in which, to head off Ukip, the Conservative and Unionist Party presented itself as the English nationalist party, it is clear that the union is on life support."

While he could not deny the " enormity of the nationalists' election victory", the former Labour leader said it would be "wrong to assume that the dramatic results signal any further rise in support for independence since last year's referendum".

Mr Brown said: " When Scotland's future was at stake in the referendum, Scots had to choose between Scottish nationalism and support for the union - and many patriotic Scots like me chose to defend the union. But when it has come to a choice between English nationalism and defending the union, the Conservatives are choosing English nationalism.

"Sadly, this tactic - to divide and rule and put party before country rather than to unite - is one that the Conservatives can return to again and again.

"It reveals a bigger truth: that while Scotland has not yet written off Britain, the Conservatives are starting to write off Scotland."

To counter this threat, he called for the establishment of a new constitutional convention to "debate and set out the rights and responsibilities of citizens in each part of the UK".

Mr Brown said: " As a start, we should embed a new constitutional principle that recognises the real glue that - far more than flags or anthems - binds the country together: the pooling and sharing of risks and resources to uphold basic social and economic rights - from common pensions and free healthcare to guaranteed help when sick, unemployed or disabled - across the UK's nations and regions.

"We should state clearly that whatever else any government at Westminster does, it will uphold - and even the most right-wing government will be unable to abandon - the principle of equity between the nations and regions, allocating resources on the basis of need, and that it will protect established social and economic rights."

He added: " If the current government will not lead, we should bring together a people's convention that opposition parties - Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Nationalists and others - and interested civic society and faith groups might join.

" In a Britain where the battered forces of progressive opinion urgently need to regroup and find common purpose, a constitutional guarantee to citizens of all four nations could be the best way, and perhaps the last chance, to show there is a clear and explicit vision of how the four nations can achieve more together through co-operation and sharing than we can ever do by breaking apart."

But Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, hit back at the former prime minister, saying: " Gordon Brown seems set on going down in history as the man who was wrong about everything.

"The Conservatives have not given up on Scotland - quite the opposite, in fact.

"We're now the only pro-Union party in Scotland to stand up and take on the SNP whilst keeping the United Kingdom together.

"It is the Labour Party who need to learn from us on how to fight to save the Union."

The SNP's Roger Mullin, who succeeded Mr Brown as the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said: " Gordon Brown rightly points out that the Tories don't care about Scotland. He himself used the term 'anti-Scottish' to describe their election campaign - which begs the question of why Labour stood shoulder to shoulder with them in the referendum.

"Gordon Brown's legacy is Labour's disastrous alliance with the Tories, and his broken vow from the referendum - which contributed to Labour losing 40 of their former 41 Westminster seats in Scotland to the SNP."

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