Scottish independence: Gordon Brown's alternative plan could strengthen Scotland's position in Union, but will swing voters be persuaded? – Ian Swanson
Gordon Brown was credited with helping turn the tide away from independence in the 2014 referendum with a series of speeches late in the campaign to galvanise the No vote and stop many Labour supporters drifting to the Yes camp.
Now, as a poll shows support for independence surging following the UK Supreme Court ruling that Holyrood cannot legislate for a second referendum, the former Prime Minister is back with a plan he hopes voters will opt for as an alternative to a go-it-alone Scotland. Mr Brown's proposals for constitutional change across the UK – two years in the making – include replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber representing the nations and regions; introducing a legal requirement for co-operation between devolved governments and Westminster; and a series of increased powers for the Scottish Parliament.
His vision for "A New Britain" also proposes constitutionally protected social rights including the right to healthcare for all based on need, not ability to pay, and the right to decent housing; a specific role for the new second chamber in ensuring power cannot be clawed back from the devolved nations to the centre; the possibility of elected mayors; representation, as of right, on bodies like the Bank of England and energy regulator Ofgem; and the ability for the Scottish Government to enter into agreements with international bodies in relation to devolved policy areas, for example joining the EU's Erasmus student exchange.
The SNP has rubbished the package as "underwhelming" and says it feels like the 10,000th time Labour has committed to reform the House of Lords. But any plan which stops short of independence is going to be dismissed by the nationalists. These proposals were not designed to convert the diehards in the Yes camp, but to win over middle-ground voters, "soft" independence supporters who may have voted Yes last time but now have doubts. Mr Brown sees his plan as offering a third way that means people no longer have to choose between the status quo and independence.
An independent Scotland able to forge its own destiny is still an appealing prospect for many, but concerns about the border with England if Scotland rejoins the EU and the fear that independence could bring about Brexit-style problems but on a bigger scale will now be weighed in the balance along with any existing reservations. Following the Supreme Court judgement, Nicola Sturgeon has talked of making the next general election a "de facto referendum" on independence since there seems no route to staging an actual one. But even if the pro-independence parties were to secure over 50 per cent of the votes – and a new poll last week suggested they would – there is little to suggest it will change the attitude of the Westminster government.
With Labour riding high in UK polling, the idea that independence is the only way to prevent never-ending Tory government has lost some of its force. So Mr Brown is hoping people will decide that rather than use the election to proclaim support for independence with no guarantee it will achieve any change at all, they should instead cast their vote to help elect a government that can deliver a package of serious reforms that could strengthen Scotland’s position.