Given that Gordon Brown has hardly been seen in the Commons since losing power five years ago, it was a bit rich of him to say goodbye now. But the SNP uprising has started — it looks set to claim his own seat of Kirkcaldy — and so he’s off. In his final speech to the House of Commons today, he lamented the gradual breaking apart of the UK which was, of course, started by his own party.
After indulging in niceties towards Parliament as an institution, the Speaker and his constituents, Brown promised to devote his efforts away from Westminster to ‘the idea of Britain’ and attacked the Conservatives’ plans to devolve powers to England:
‘I leave this house feeling a huge sense of gratitude, but also with some concern.
‘The UK today is fragile…Whatever the future, in the constitutional revolution that is now underway, I will fight and fight again to renew and reconstruct for a new age the idea of Britain, around shared values that can bring us together and advance a common sense of Britishness. A shared belief in tolerance, in liberty, in fairness that comes alive in unique British institutions like the National Health Service and in common policies for social justice.
‘It is because I believe in Britain’s future that I am saddened, and I am really sorry to have to say this, that for the first and only time in 300 years of the Union, it has become official government policy to create two classes of elected representatives in this House. The first class that would vote on all issues, and the second who would vote on only some.
This is to mimic the nationalists by driving a wedge between Scotland and England, and this only to head off opposition from the extremes with a direct nationalist appeal to the English electorate. It is not so much about English votes for English laws, it is English laws for English votes.’
This ‘constitutional revolution’ that Brown is saddened by is, of course, partly of his own making. The 1998 Scotland Act paved the way for a two-tier system, with Scottish MPs retaining the right to vote on English matters that devolution meant MPs south of the border could not do in return.
The former Prime Minister may seek a bipartisan consensus to keep the Union together, but by dismissing plans for English devolution simply as opportunistic vote-seeking, he adds to the chorus of party point-scoring he claims to despise. Plus, if Brown really believed in a ‘shared belief in fairness’, wouldn’t he be more supportive of England being granted powers that Scots were given now almost two decades ago?