Gordon Brown addresses Scottish Labour activists at St Josephs on March 10, 2014 in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Gordon Brown is a potent weapon for the Scottish No campaign

The former PM retains a strong connection with the working class Scots who could determine the referendum result. 

More significant than the content of Gordon Brown's speech at a Better Together event today is the mere fact of it at all. At the outset of the Scottish independence battle, Brown refused to join the unionist umbrella group in favour of working with the single-party United with Labour. This reflected both his unremitting anti-Toryism and his reluctance to join forces with Alistair Darling, the chancellor with whom he clashed so often in the final years of his premiership. But with less than five months to go until the referendum, the former PM has cast aside hostilities and agreed to speak on a Better Together platform at Glasgow University at 5pm today. 

The appearance has been planned for some time but that it coincides with the No campaign's smallest poll lead to data (just three points separate the two sides in the latest ICM survey) means it will be written up as a desperate roll of the dice by the unionists. There is, however, no doubt that Brown represents a considerable threat to Scottish independence, as even Alex Salmond has been known to acknowledge. The former PM is significantly more popular in Scotland than he is south of the border and has a strong connection with the working class swing voters who have been defecting to the Yes side in recent weeks. At the 2010 general election, while Labour's vote fell by 6.2 per cent across the UK, it rose by 2.5 per cent in Scotland and the party held onto all 41 of its seats. This was thanks in no small part to Brown, whose own constituency vote rose by 6.4 per cent. 

The SNP has responded by denouncing Brown for joining "the Tory No campaign" but it is precisely his involvement that will make it harder to portray Better Together as a Conservative front. Brown will largely focus on the issue of pensions today, reflecting the pivotal status of elderly voters in the contest. He will reveal new leaked DWP figures he has been given and cite three ways in which Scotland will benefit from the preservation of a cross-UK pensions system. 

First, as Scottish pensioners numbers rise from one million to 1.3 million (a proportionately larger increase than in the rest of the UK), the country will increasingly benefit from a system under which it pays 8 per cent of national insurance contributions but receives 8.8 per cent of the benefits.

Second, the UK will underwrite what is "estimated confidentially" as a £100bn Scottish public sector pensions bill. While Scotland accounts for 10 per cent of government pensions liabilities, it accounts for 8 per cent of the UK population. 

Third, the maintenance of the Union would remove the £1bn bill that a new independent Scottish government would incur to administer the first years of a separate pensions system (once IT costs are included). In addition to £720m running costs, there would be £300-400m in computer bills due to "unnecessary duplication."

He will say in his speech: 

For too long the referendum debate has been presented as one side representing Scotland and the other side representing Britain.

In fact the real debate is between two Scottish visions of Scotland’s future – the nationalist one based on the breaking of all political links with the UK and our vision based on a strong Scottish Parliament backed up by a system of pooling and sharing risks and resources across the UK.

The whole point of sharing risks and resources across the UK is that it is right and proper that the British welfare state bears the rising cost of Scottish pensions as the number of old people will rise from 1 million to 1.3 million.  As the internal DWP document makes clear, it is fairer and better for everyone that Britain’s faster rising working-age population rather than Scotland’s slow rising working-age population covers the cost of the rising numbers of elderly in Scotland, because we have contributed in UK National Insurance all our lives to spread the risks of poverty in retirement.

If the SNP deny there is a problem they have to explain why they have set up a working party on ‘the affordability’ of future pensions.

Scottish public sector pension liabilities of £100 billion, while also higher, are also rightly covered as part of the system of pooling and sharing resources across the UK.

It makes no sense either to break up the British system of pension payments or to set up a wholly new administrative system which the DWP costs at £1billion in the first years.

In Glasgow I will show how in areas such as pensions it makes good sense to combine having a Scottish Parliament with being part of Britain.

The SNP government has said the case for independence should be judged on whether Scotland would benefit financially or not.

It is clear that pensioners are better protected when the risks are spread across the UK and it is also clear that in the year the SNP want independence the Scots pension bill alone is three times the income from oil revenues.  

Indeed the best deal for poorer pensioners is the redistribution of resources we have negotiated within the UK which allowed pensioner poverty in Scotland to fall under Labour, from 33 per cent in 1997 to 11 per cent when we left office.

It is the kind of forensic analysis for which Brown was celebrated in his Treasury days. Salmond may present himself as an accomplished economist, often referring to his time at RBS in the 1980s, but on this territory, he is no match for the former chancellor. 

But if Brown is to revive the fortunes of a No campaign that has badly lost momentum, he will need to inject passion and emotion into the debate, rather than merely statistics (something of which Better Together has no shortage). With a self-authored book soon to be published on his relationship with Scotland and the Union, Brown should seize the opportunity to make a personal case for a social democratic UK. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.