Brown and Iraq: myth and reality

This Atlanticist genuinely backed the war

The surprising news that Gordon Brown will, in fact, appear before the Chilcot Iraq inquiry before the general election will prompt further speculation about his true views on the 2003 invasion.

It has often been put about by some close to him that the then chancellor privately opposed military action. And while it is true that Brown might have "done a Wilson" and supported the US spiritually but not militarily, the likelihood remains that he would have done broadly the same as Blair. Why? Because far from being "Old Labour", he is just about the biggest Atlanticist in the Labour Party, perhaps even bigger than Blair.

Brown initiated the so-called "Clintonisation" of New Labour in the 1990s with a series of trips to the US, where he still holidays. This is relevant, because it is becoming increasingly clear that Iraq was a warped reaction to the September 11 attacks -- and that the UK backed the invasion in order to stay close to America.

As to the implications of Brown making an appearance: on the one hand, this could damage him, reminding voters that it was a "Labour war", even though it was unwisely backed by the Tories. This will stay the case no matter how hard the Prime Minister tries personally to disassociate himself from it.

On the other hand, Brown strategists believe there is a chance that -- along with the debates -- this could be a chance for him to level with the British people, and that he may even thrive under pressure.

Whatever happens, it should be noted that Brown's letter expressing his willingness to appear at any time -- and the Chilcot inquiry's U-turn over senior politicians appearing before the election -- are a victory for Nick Clegg, who urged more transparency in a powerful intervention at Prime Minister's Questions.

 

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.