Alan Cochrane, Scottish Editor
8:59PM BST 03 Jun 2014
A FUNNY thing happened to me on my way to save the Union yesterday; Gordon
Brown cracked a joke and everyone laughed.
Mind you, there was a bit of a delay, a sort of double-take, whilst the
people in the room – assorted Labour politicians and reporters – worked out
if their ears had deceived them or not.
Oh how we then chortled, as did the former Prime Minister and Chancellor of
the Exchequer. He’d been asked what the difference was between the
referendum campaign and a general election and he responded:
“I am enjoying this campaign,” he said with a lop-sided smirk,
before adding: “ the press are kinder to me.”
Jokes and the Great Clunking Fist of Gordon Brown have not been a regular
twosome since ‘that’ general election four years ago, at least not in
public. However, I think we can take him at his word – he is enjoying this
campaign and, furthermore, I think that, barring unforeseen happenings,
he’ll still be enjoying it at the end of the punishing schedule he’s set
himself to keep Labour voters firmly in the No camp.
He plans to address more than 5000 people over the next few weeks in no fewer
than 13 different venues from Inverness to the Borders. It would not be fair
to compare what Brown plans with Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign; for one
thing the former premier says he has no national political ambitions any
more. However, just like it did for the Liberal leader’s reputation more
than 130 years ago, a successful defence of the United Kingdom would do
wonders for Gordon Brown’s standing in British politics.
Traditional and mainly male Labour supporters are seen as the key votes to be
won in the referendum battle. Gordon Brown is seen, not least by himself, as
the man to keep them solidly anti-separatist. The former premier may have
fewer friends elsewhere but his name alone still counts for a lot in Labour
And neither he, nor Johann Lamont, the Labour leader, is any longer afraid
to campaign on the word No.
Mr Brown said that this week represented “an important turning point” in the
referendum campaign. He didn’t quite say that this was because he’s fully
committed himself to the fray but I suppose we could take that as read.
One of the key messages this son of the manse will be preaching is the shared
values of the different parts of the UK. Recent polls had showed that a
majority of Scots believed in sharing the benefit of North Sea oil across
the UK, that a majority wanted the same rate of corporation tax everywhere
and that they supported a special tax on bankers’ bonuses, with the benefits
again shared across the UK.
However, perhaps his main message is that with all the Unionist parties now
backing extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, if there is a ‘No’ vote,
the time was drawing near for a joint approach on how to progress those.
He reckons all the parties should include their commitments in their
manifestos for next year’s election but also told the BBC that the three
parties could reach a joint agreement earlier “if possible”. Frankly, I
don’t think it would be possible and nor do I reckon it’s at all desirable
as there’s far too much of a tearing rush at present to agree a whole raft
of new powers for Holyrood. There’s plenty of time for that after the
It was good to see a one-party man like Gordon Brown acknowledging that other
parties had something worthwhile to say on this, or indeed any, subject. And
that he’s prepared to countenance cross-party talks is another step forward.
Having said that, I still think that it’s a pity that Mr Brown in particular
and Scottish Labour in general, should think it necessary to re-emphasise
their distinctive anti separatist campaign. Called ‘United with Labour’ it
will feature no Tories or Liberal Democrats on its platforms.
They say they should be seen as parallel, rather than competing, with Better
Together. I’m glad to hear it because at the latter’s Glasgow HQ you can’t
move for senior Labour politicians, all working happily with those of other
For instance, Mark McInnes, the Scottish Tories’ chief executive, shares a
desk with Frank Roy, the MP for Motherwell and Wishaw and Jim Murphy, the
former Scottish Secretary and MP for East Renfrewshire and jokes: “ I’m the
most left wing of all of them.”
Perhaps I shouldn’t quibble. Gordon Brown is throwing himself into this fight
to a remarkable degree. He deserves to succeed.
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