You would have missed it. While the UK national media were preoccupied with Gordon Browns climb down on a winter fuel payment, the really memorable part of his speech addressed the future of Scottish devolution. In what the Times calls a seismic event Gordon Brown has performed a U turn and flagged up his willingness to give the Scottish Parliament tax raising powers. He talked in code, but the message was clear: “while he would do nothing to put the economic union of the UK at risk, that should not be confused with unthinking opposition to change and development in how our union governs itself. The constitution of the Union has always evolved to meet the changing needs and rising hopes of our people as it did most notably when we created the Scottish Parliament 10 years ago.”
Changing the political habits of a life time, Brown is taking the fight unto Alex Salmonds own ground in a stunning response to the SNPs leaders challenge of using the Parliaments powers to levy local income tax to replace the hated council tax.The devil now is in the detail. Brown has to explain how if at all, he intends to give more than the tax varying powers the Parliament already possesses but has never used and how his scheme would change the UK’s unified tax structure. He cannot leave it all up to the Calman Commission. In doing this, Brown is sidelining his own stumbling Labour party in Holyrood and moving to regain the initiative in Scottish politics he has been losing so comprehensively to Alex Salmond since last year. His aim is “to strengthen Scotland’s place within the Union.” and in the meantime to rally support around himself. Whatever else, it is the first bold stroke of his premiership.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London