Gordon Brown: Divided UK needs a new constitutional settlement

Greater devolution could mitigate Brexit anger, he argued

Gordon Brown


The government has ‘lost control of the argument’ in recent years, Gordon Brown told a meeting of the Fabian Society in London this morning.

Pointing to massive inequalities in employment, income, output and investment between the southeast and the rest of Britain, Brown argued that the disparity between the core and periphery ‘is greater now than at any point in our history as an industrial nation.’ Additionally, he argued that ‘the constitution no longer serves the needs and aspirations of the people.’

His call for constitutional reform and decentralisation of power was supported by Labour MPs Alison McGovern and John Trickett, who also spoke.

Brown said:

“We need wholesale reform because today the United Kingdom appears united in name only.

Politically, the strains of Brexit are already showing, as different nations, regions, sectors and companies desperately seek their own opt-outs from a hard Brexit and call for their own à la carte version of Brexit. 

Economically, the vote on June 23 revealed that Britain is becoming two nations divided – a highly-prosperous South East and a permanently struggling North – with London effectively decoupling from the economy of the rest of the UK.” 

Brown called for a new constitutional convention in the aftermath of Brexit, paving the way for a more federalised UK. He believes it should ‘consider the repatriation of powers from Brussels not to Whitehall or Westminster but to the regions and nations of the United Kingdom.’

This could entail greater devolution of power over policy, fisheries, agriculture and social funds, but would also present an opportunity for regions and nations to determine their own social justice priorities, for example by preserving the Human Rights Act in the nations.

“We should consider the case for devolving further powers from the UK to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in light of the Brexit vote.  For instance, as the UK will no longer be part of the EU Social Chapter – and the Tories threaten to abandon workers’ rights – employment law could come within the ambit of the Scottish Parliament.”

He also proposed giving the nations and regions the power to negotiate directly with the EU on the status of their relationship with Brussels.

On Scotland, he argued that the SNP’s current position is ‘even more extreme’ than it was in 2014, since prioritising the European Single Market over the UK Single Market would entail ‘breaking the economic as well as the political union.’

He argued that many of those who voted ‘Yes’ in the independence referendum did not want ‘independence for its own sake’ but rather independence as a pathway to a more socially just Scotland. The challenge for pro-union voices, he suggested, is to explore ‘how these ideals and objectives can be reflected in a fresh post-Brexit constitutional settlement.’  

While acknowledging the severe divisions that currently characterise Scottish politics, he argued that ‘the Scottish people can find common purpose in shaping a structure of government that advances social justice.’

Finally, the former prime minister suggested that a key component of the convention would be rediscovering progressive British values, building an outward-looking, liberal, open Britain.

Following the speech, Sadiq Khan, Kezia Dugdale, Carwyn Jones and Andy Burnham released a joint statement in support of Brown’s proposals:

“This is an important intervention by Gordon Brown – and one we whole-heartedly support as Labour leaders and candidates across the UK. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union will change our country and Labour must respond to this challenge.

The social, economic and constitutional inequalities between the constituent parts of Britain are driving a wedge between people and politics – allowing for the rise of populist, nationalist and simplistic solutions that run counter to Labour party values.

The devolution of power and finance is an agenda that Labour must now make its own, just as it has in the past through delivering the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and the London Mayoralty.

Labour priorities can never be fulfilled whilst power and finance is centralised – and starting today, we intend to work together with other Labour colleagues across the country to develop a people’s Constitutional Convention to start the process of rebalancing our institutions and our economy. Only by achieving a new, fair settlement for all nations and regions can we be sure of saving the UK from further fracture, resisting arguments for Scottish independence and another divisive referendum and tackling rising inequality.”

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

9 Responses to “Gordon Brown: Divided UK needs a new constitutional settlement”

  1. Anon

    Gordon Brown, for all of his thoughts, kept us out of the euro – for which any true democrat in the UK should be grateful.

    The one strand that the so-described Left are hanging on to here, is that England as a country is identity strong, and that by breaking her up they can divide and rule through regional cities dictating to smaller towns and villages.

    It is the same power grabbing, with no real democratic consideration for the guy on the street.

    As stated above, Brown could have shown his democratic credentials by insisting on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which he didn’t.

    The man’s a liar.

  2. Tom Wintringham

    Gordon Brown is to blame (for everything).

    Fiscal conservatism from Tories who tank the economy is par for the course – which is fixable if the next Labour government grows the economy recently shrunk by the last Tory government.

    The real treachery was fiscal conservatism from the Labour Party.

    Blair appointed Brown as his chancellor who aped Tory fiscal conservatism, promising to be “prudent”, balancing the books over the cycle and other fiscal conservative guff.

    So the ruination of the British economy, the rise of the Scottish national party in response to austerity and the disintegration of Britain as a global power as China rose to super power status is really only the direct fault of THE GREAT CLUNKING FIST OF GORDON BABOON and those little monkeys who supported that great ape.

    Health spending now as a % of GDP – more than 7% – is higher than it was in every year that Brown was chancellor. It only rose higher after Darling was chancellor.

    In Brown’s early years as chancellor, NHS spending flat-lined at 5% of GDP – disgraceful while the UK had budget surpluses that Brown refused to invest in the NHS, council house building or indeed in anything, preferring to pay down the national debt.

    It wasn’t just that Brown’s first term as Chancellor was “tentative”.

    Brown’s first term as chancellor STRANGLED the British economy. Now if a man strangles his first wife but doesn’t do the same to his second wife, would you describe the man as being “tentative” as regards his first wife?

    No, you wouldn’t. So don’t anyone ever dare describe Brown as “tentative” in his first term. Describe Brown as a “Baboon” or an economy-strangler, or something equally disrespectful.

    There’s no way back for Labour, especially in Scotland, while Gordon Baboon struts the corridors of power at Labour HQ.

    Labour has to be judge, jury and executioner on Brown and his legacy.

    Brown lost the 2010 General Election by losing England to the Tories decisively.

    Labour is only of any use to Scotland if and when it wins enough of England to keep the Tories off Scotland’s backs.

    Therefore Brown losing England caused Scots to think their vote for Labour in 2010, trusting Brown to deliver England, was wasted. That’s how Brown lost Scotland, by losing England.

    Worse than that, Brown’s legacy is still losing Scotland because Kezia Dugdale is unable or unwilling to shake off Brown’s legacy of fiscal conservatism.

    The main potential political attack on the SNP, that offers Labour a way to victory, is to attack the so-called “fiscal framework agreement” between the SNP government and the UK Treasury, agreed between Osborne and Sturgeon.

    Why? Because the fiscal framework restricts the power of the Scottish government to borrow to invest for economic growth.

    It’s the Tartan-Tory stitch-up fiscal framework that is costing Scots jobs and services but Dugdale won’t attack Sturgeon over it because Dugdale believes in Gordon Brown, or dare not rip his legacy of fiscal conservatism to shreds in an open discussion about borrowing powers, borrowing for investment in a way that Brown never wanted to do.

    What I mean by “strutting the corridors of power” in Brown’s case is daring to show his face at any Labour Party meeting without being howled down, ridiculed, called a “Baboon” and otherwise being repudiated.

    When Brown’s face and name gets the scorn it deserves in Scottish Labour, maybe then a Scottish Labour leader can come out strongly against Gordon Brown’s fiscal conservative policies against borrowing, attack the SNP-Tory fiscal framework, press for more borrowing powers for Holyrood and win elections.

  3. Mick

    Phew, that was a long one. Especially when New Labour only blew their trust with the public due to ineptitude, PC mania, Europhilia and financial catastrophe.

    When Tories get in, they are blamed for taking tough measures to clean up Labour’s mess. That’s to be expected, so they’re still in power. It’s only when Tories lose the plot, as they began to in the 90s, that you get the crashing disappointment.

    Labour were so determined to dump the image of fiscal amateurs that they stuck to the Conservative spending plans for the first year. And given the Tories had already re-mended the economy by 1997, it was good thinking.

    Patching up the national debt and making a stockpile was also largely a great plan, though punitive as PC projects and the Dome could have had their money spent on better things. However, the splurges and total loss of economic control after 2006 only showed Brown’s actual incompetence when allowed to do it all his way. Then nobody was happy.

  4. uglyfatbloke

    What’s all this business about insulting baboons? What harm have they done?

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