The Scotsman, 24 March 2007:
How (some) things change, eh readers?
But there’s a serious side to this fun wee nostalgia trip too.
“The Chancellor conceded the Nationalists had been hard to pin down so far in the campaign. He said: ‘It takes time for the argument to become clear because the SNP don’t want to talk about independence. The SNP want to avoid difficult questions.’
He also claimed his increased role did not mean he was to take over the campaign. He insisted that Jack McConnell was ‘the leader of the campaign’. However, he then set out the party’s plans to oppose more powers for Holyrood.
He said: ‘The issue for the parliament and the election manifesto of the Labour Party is how existing powers are better and best used.’
He went on: ‘What Labour is looking to is greater partnership between the devolved parliament and the UK government.’
Brown’s words reveal the lie at the heart of Labour’s constant claims to be the “party of devolution”, always seeking to give Holyrood more powers. Labour only EVER gives Scotland more powers when it feels under threat from the independence movement.
In 2007, as we see (although it’s never mentioned nowadays in the media), Gordon Brown insisted that the party resolutely opposed any such idea. Yet Alex Salmond had barely got his backside into the First Minister’s chair when Labour and its Unionist allies decided they’d been wrong all along, and formed the Calman Commission to see how little they could get away with promising for the future.
When Calman’s feeble proposals failed to stop the SNP winning a second election in 2011 – and even as the watered-down Scotland Act implementation of them was still working its way slowly into being (it’s not due to be fully in effect until 2016) – the threat of independence panicked all the London-based parties into yet MORE devolution commissions.
Labour’s has already delivered its meaningless and shambolic “Devo Nano” plan, along with a promise from Douglas Alexander to talk about the constitution for the next TEN YEARS. The Liberal Democrats, who’ve been promising “Home Rule” for the last century, had Sir Menzies Campbell (who was there at the start of that period) come up with the bold idea of having a conversation about it after the referendum.
In 2012, BBC broadcaster Andrew Neil – not a noted nationalist – told a charity dinner in Scotland what everyone already knew:
“Devolution, the Calman Commission, the Scotland Bill, the Edinburgh Agreement, all of this and more you have, is because Westminster parties are scared of the SNP. If you vote ‘No’ you massively change the balance of power and they will not only give you nothing, but will probably take powers away from the Scottish Parliament”.
It’s difficult to know how much more evidence could be required to illustrate the truth of his comments. Westminster (and especially Labour) only relinquishes any of its powers grudgingly, and only when it absolutely has to.
A No vote in September will remove the threat of independence, which drives all of those concessions, for a generation. And the consequences of that could be sobering. Johann Lamont actually campaigned against devolution in the 1979 referendum. Many of her colleagues and friends in the party still oppose it today.
So anyone intending to vote No in the belief that the UK parties will be falling over themselves to devolve more power to Scotland as a reward would perhaps do well, for once, to remember Gordon Brown’s words.