In the wake of the recent scandals surrounding the sting on Conservative Malcolm Rifkind and Labour’s former Defense Secretary Jack Straw, attention has once again focused on MPs’ incomes. Not overblown expenses claims this time (we dealt with Jim Murphy’s remarkable £1 million expenses achievement the other day in Murphy Madonna: Reinvent yourself until you fall on you’re a**e), or cash for questions. No, this time it is in connection with Rifkind’s comments about how much time he has to spend doing crosswords because he has so little to do as an MP – therefore it is quite legitimate to take on a couple of other ‘outside jobs’ (let us leave to one side the possibility that they may or may not compromise your role as an MP…that is another issue). This caused some press interest in what other MPs did as far as ‘pin money’ – George Galloway, the MP for Bradford West, is number three in the hit parade, with not just his £67K salary, but a grand total of £265,350 over 18 months for outside work. But way up there at the top of the pops, was Gordon Brown, the outgoing MP for Kirkcaldy, with £962,516. He set up a private company as a pseudo-charity, but only £1 million of the £3.6 million has actually made it to its charitable destination. The rest? Well, half a million a year is set aside for tax-free expenses for him and his wife Sarah.
But hasn’t this minister’s son described himself (some time ago) as a former politician? Well, in some ways you could argue so: he was present for only 7% of the votes in the Commons last year – and before you question whether or not that is normal for that slack bunch, the attendance at votes for the rest of the members of the House averaged 74%.
Gordon Brown has become a byword for Labour making promises it has neither the intention nor the ability to keep. Last year he waded in as a backbencher opposition MP, pretending to speak for the coalition government – a situation that (agreed in advance with Cameron) was so laughable, that Cameron must have been hardly able to control his voice during the conversation, let alone believe his luck. “You are going to act as the PR representative for the three Westminster leaders, who will digitally provide their signatures for some vacuous piece of paper – and you are going to tell the Scots that it represents Keir Hardie’s Home Rule dream??? Sure, Gordon – I just sent the e-mail with the signature attachment, knock yourself out…yes, I’m sure it will facilitate your entry to the Lords, and I’ll see if I can have a word with the CIA about those unfortunate Iraq e-mails…”
Brown set up ‘The Vow’, stating that the Scottish Parliament would be given extensive new powers, and be made permanent. Within minutes of the result of the Referendum being declared, Cameron was at the microphone in front of 10 Downing Street declaring that English Votes for English Laws was now on. Cue Gordon bleating with disbelief that it was ‘a Tory trap’ – yes, Gordon, one that you set up all by yourself, because you are THE Gordon Brown, who has the ego to believe he could go on a rock star tour as extensive as Nicola Sturgeon…. In July 1978 Jilted John presciently sang ‘Gordon is a Moron’, and truly, the gullibility of Labour in not seeing that this was going to be the outcome (EVEL was predicted as the consequences of a ‘no’ vote for months before the Referendum date by many ‘Yes’ websites), is breathtaking.
Gordon’s extensive powers were filleted down by the Smith Commission, before being gutted of welfare control by Ian Duncan Smith at the eleventh hour, and then watered down to a homeopathic extent by a Commons command paper that offered…..the ability to alter speed limit signage on roads. And what was hilarious was seeing Gordon joining the usual suspects of Danny Alexander and Alistair Carmichael in the chorus of ‘that will be the Vow delivered in full, then!!’ Extensive powers indeed, Gordon – and his wee plan for permanence for Holyrood? That only took Alistair Carmichael to knock it on the head, rejecting a proposed effective safeguard to prevent dissolution of the Scottish Parliament by requiring a super-majority of two thirds in Commons, Lords and Holyrood.
But, you see, Gordon is their go-to, emergency, break the glass, ‘aw naw wir stuffed anyway’, guy – how many times does he paradoxically get press headlines as ‘Labour’s Secret Weapon’ in whatever political campaign is floundering? So when Jim Murphy’s failure to reignite Labour poll support in Scotland started perplexing them, back they went to Gordon, who – despite saying ‘The Vow’ was such an ace deal, and honest, they really delivered it – now had to offer ‘The Vow Plus’.
It is so hard to take seriously. Not only with (noted ‘No’ campaigner) Professor Adam Tomkins pointing out that ‘The Vow Plus’ is Labour’s 5th position on devolution since 2010, but also because it sounds like something from the Trey Parker & Matt Stone film ‘Team America, World Police’: “why…that’s like 9-11….times 34 and a half.” And yet game old Gordon comes out, prepared to spout anything. This last week he was out on the campaign trail again, promising to disburse £800 million wealth (again from the infinite number of mansions down south that are waiting to offer up money to Scotland, apparently….) from a budget that is already fixed for the coming year so cannot be altered. As Paul Kavanagh pointed out, if Jim Murphy was promising £1 billion to Scotland from the same source the week before, then where did the other 20% go – Gordon’s speaking tour fees, for getting him to come out on the road one last time?
Perhaps it is worth taking a few moments to consider the realities of the ‘Mansion Tax’, and why so many people in London get upset at the idea of Scots getting any money from it. The so-called Mansion Tax is a tax based on properties valued at over £2 million. There are 895 of these in Scotland. But there are 85,461 of them in London – out of an estimated UK total of 108,477. In fact, over 78% of the liable UK properties for this tax – calculated to yield £1.2 billion – comes from London, giving some credence to Diane Abbott MP’s criticism that this is a tax on London. Jim and Gordon are not the only ones to promise the Earth on this tax: Andy Burnham has also promised to spend £2.5 billion from it on the NHS in England and Wales, to recruit 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs, so that appointments can be guaranteed within 48 hours. Mansion Tax or mythical horn of plenty? Maybe a bit of both….
But politics is a cruel arena – the same week that Gordon Brown’s last constituency campaign (to save the Tescos in Kirkcaldy) ended in failure, research was being produced to say that actually his efforts with ‘The Vow’ were irrelevant. The Adam Smith professor at Glasgow University attempted to assess the impact of ‘The Vow’ on voting intentions…using Google Search data. Unsurprisingly, this has been criticised as a somewhat ‘flawed methodology’. A survey released by the Centre for Constitutional Change purported to show that only 3.4% of ‘No’ voters voted that way because they wanted extra powers for Scotland, therefore dismisses the impact of ‘The Vow’ in those last hours – other answers in that survey were that just under a third of ‘No’ voters did so because they felt British, 28.5% said too many unanswered questions, 26.3% believed independence would make Scotland worse off, 5.3% wanted to vote Yes but it seemed too risky, 5.2% didn’t trust ‘that Alex Salmond’.
But don’t worry, Gordon – your reputation for delivering the electorate on the back of a donkey called ‘The Vow’ can be saved…thanks – perhaps appropriately – to a Tory peer of the realm. On the night of the vote, Lord Ashcroft conducted an extensive post-referendum poll, where 25% of ‘No’ voters gave their most important reason for voting ‘No’ was that a ‘No’ vote would still secure extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, as enunciated in ‘The Vow’. It is important to notice that this was done at the time of the vote, and before the result was known – and not after the months of media coverage that watched the material substance of Gordon’s Vow fall apart. How happy would you be to admit to it, if you had been tempted from ‘Yes’ to ‘No’ at the last minute by the promise of more powers, and then realised you had been taken for a mug – just like those irritating ‘Yes’ campaigners said you would be at the time? Perhaps being a fresher recollection – and less subject to repenting at leisure – this is the survey that more attention should be paid to…rather than HangOver Nos, slowly going into denial.
Even Peter Kellner, the President of YouGov, acknowledged that ‘The Vow’ was pivotal, in a January article where he scolded the Conservative Government for its panic in the last week of the Referendum campaign: “our poll [Yes 51, No 49] led to panic, the panic led to the Vow, and the Vow led to the SNP’s biggest ever boost”. The Vow DID matter, not just because of Kellner, or Ashcroft’s recognition – or even because that is how we who were there experienced it in that last week. Ashcroft saying it was the main reason for 25% of people voting ‘No’ of course does not take into account where it might have been a contributory factor for other voters. As Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp of Business for Scotland notes from YouGov polls, “This means it created the single largest weekly fluctuation in the campaign, stopping the Yes momentum dead in the last week, and suggests that without it the result would have been even closer.”
Dr. W. Elliot Bulmer, author of ‘A Model Constitution for Scotland: Making Democracy work in an Independent State’ (2011) and ‘A Constitution for the Common Good: Strengthening Scottish Democracy after 2014’ (2014), notes the direct impact of ‘The Vow’ – much as with Peter Carty [see Beyond ‘Conditional No’s: The Ongoing Political Uncertainty of What the ‘No’ Vote Actually Meant…]: “The referendum was emphatically not, however, an endorsement of the Union as currently constituted. Scotland was asked to give the Union a second chance. We were told it would change, that it would become what it had always pretended to be – a family of nations based on equality and mutuality.”
It is important to recognise why unrepresentative research might be pushed at this time, and other conclusions conveniently ignored – that that there are strong political motivations for people to argue that ‘The Vow’ did not make a difference, specifically in the run-up to this General Election. Destroying the argument for more powers, say Labour, will stop what is keeping the SNP high – and if you produce research that says that ‘The Vow’ did not make a difference, then ‘weaponise’ more powers with fear so that people start to be afraid of what might happen, then not only are you clearly not under any obligation to deliver those much-promised powers – in fact, you will be ‘doing them a favour’ by not delivering them. More powers is NOT about the Conservative doctrine of fiscal accountability, although, of course, that accountability comes along with them, but the important thing is that is not WHY they are needed: economy-growing and job-creating powers are needed because of Westminster’s abject negligence in management, that has Scotland paying so heavily every year to service Westminster’s debts for services that Scotland does not benefit from.
So yes – Gordon is still in the frame for delivering that ‘No’ vote. And those early days when – even against the backdrop of the rise of the SNP and the decline of Labour – he was still regarded as having done good things as leader of moves to ensure the UK leaders’ promises on devolved powers were kept…those days are gone. From an enclave of his being one of 4 Labour seats projected to survive the coming SNP onslaught next month, Lord Ashcroft has now polled his constituency to find a 28 point swing to the SNP from Labour in Kirkcaldy, the largest swing in any constituency that Ashcroft has polled, for it to prospectively change colour with much of the rest of the map of Scotland.
I wonder what it is like being Gordon Brown, staring at the mirror in the morning – or perhaps as the light fades and he prepares for bed at night. ‘Why did I believe Tony over that deal in the café? Doh! Why did I say as Chancellor I had ended ‘boom and bust’? Doh! Why did I support the war in Iraq? Doh! Why did I sell the state’s gilts off cheap, and rob national pension funds? Dohdoh! Why did I say I was going to deliver Keir Hardie’s ‘home rule’? Doh! Why did I think I could make a commitment for a government that I wasn’t even part of? Doh! Why have my repeated failures led to the death of the Labour Party in Scotland?’ For the price of Brown’s complicity (if not that of the rest of the Labour Party during the Referendum campaign, as often speculated in the press) may now be virtual extinction in Scotland for his party. The latest YouGov poll that gave the SNP a record 49% high in voting intentions for Westminster, also indicated that 41% of Labour 2010 voters (approximately 400,000 voters) plan to vote SNP next month – and 71% of those same former Labour voters think Nicola Sturgeon is doing a good job as First Minister.
So, given the consequences of his intervention for his party, how will Gordon intervene one last time to save the Labour Party in Scotland? A new Vow perhaps? Perhaps just to shut up? Because a vow of silence might just be ‘The Vow Double Plus Good’ that we have been looking for him to make….
“I have spoken to firm no voters across the party political spectrum, from my own constituents to prominent Scots elsewhere, and there is no doubt in my mind that if this parliament kicks the vow beyond the next election, and therefore into the long grass, it will be Labour – not the Conservatives – that will be held responsible. Such a failure to legislate would be a moral hazard of such a scale as to confirm, even to many unionists, that the UK government has indeed become corrupted, and that the referendum was won on a lie.” (Eric Joyce, Labour MP, 22/9/2014)