Gordon Brown may not have helped the Union cause

The papers have caught up with Slugger on Gordon Brown’s emergence from political purdah to join the debate over Scottish independence. Brown it will be noted isn’t claiming an Olympic effect on a referendum that’s over two years away. His argument is in two parts; first, the Better Together case.   

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.

Then he opens a substantially new front that no party has wished to confront – probably because it applies nearly as much to devo max as well , the dangers of fiscal competition.

The danger of breaking up what he called “fiscal union”, was he said, 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.”

If the union were broken up, he said, “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.”

Meanwhile manoeuvres between Westminster and Holyrood are intensifying over a one or two question ballot. The Telegraph reports muddled talks between the two sides, with Westminster saying in terms, we’ll start the ball rolling soon  to give Holyrood the legal powers to hold a referendum – if they agree to  the single yes, no question. This seems partly designed to flush out Salmond’s commitment to a second question on devo max and abandon his current coyness.

What’s the betting he comes out the closet on this? The battle will then truly be joined on the issue at least as crucial as the referendum date.   The problem for the pro-Union forces is that devo max – aka “fiscal autonomy” splits them. It will be harder for them to resolve this than it is for the SNP. The referendum timetable is not the big issue for Alex Salmond.

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