Gordon Brown attends a Better Together rally on August 27, 2014 in Dundee. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Brown takes charge as Cameron backs his plan for "Scottish Home Rule"

The former PM seizes the initiative with a timetable for further devolution to Scotland. 

Gordon Brown may not be in office, but he is in power. After the former prime minister, in his own words, seized "the initiative" by announcing a timetable for further devolution to the Scottish parliament in the event of a No vote, Westminster was bemused. Downing Street had said this morning that details would be given "in the coming days", with Wednesday briefed as the likely date. But here was Brown jumping the gun and promising "a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the United Kingdom, published by St Andrews Day on 30 November, with the draft laws around 25 January – interestingly enough by Burns Night." 

The former PM will say in his speech in Midlothian tonight: 

On 19 September we will start bringing into law the new, stronger Scottish Parliament, and to secure the change we want we will work with the other parties. The Scottish people will expect nothing less, not only because that is the right thing to do, but because we need an agreed timetable with deadlines for delivery and a roadmap to our goal.

Last week I spoke to the Speaker of the House of Commons and requested a parliamentary debate for the first week to bring the issues to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity. He has promised me his answer by Wednesday.

But I think it is right anyway that on its first week back the House of Commons agrees a motion to set a new Scotland Act in train I hope this can be agreed.

But even though we are not in power, Labour is now taking the initiative proposing a timetable for strengthening the Scottish Parliament

It is this: by the end of October, just over five weeks after the referendum, we seek a command paper that sets out all the plans, including the agreed ground that unites us, and the issues that need to be resolved.

By the end of November, we seek Heads of Agreement on a new Scotland Act published in a White Paper, or its equivalent, will report back on an intensive month of consultation with Scottish civic society and with the groups who were engaged in talks during Scottish Constitutional convention, who like the Scottish Parliament, will be able to scrutinise and challenge the proposals.

By the end of January 2015,we seek  draft clauses ready for legislative enactment as the new Scotland Bill and Scotland Act. I want to see draft clauses giving effect to these policies as soon as possible because I want legislation to happen as soon as possible. And from November to January we would continue to consult the Scottish Parliament.

Labour since Keir Hardie has been the Party of Home Rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom so the plan for a stronger Scottish Parliament we seek agreement on is for nothing else than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the United Kingdom, published by St Andrews Day on 30 November, with the draft laws around 25 January – interestingly enough by Burns Night.

 
Downing Street refused to say whether Brown discussed his plan with Cameron before it was announced (which suggests the answer is no), before later stating that "The Prime Minister very much welcomes Gordon Brown's announcement today" and that "This is exactly the sort of thing we have been discussing for some time".
 
If it seems surprising that Cameron has so fulsomely endorsed his predecessor's plan, it's worth remembering how desperate the situation is. The 307-year-old Union is on the brink of break-up and Brown is regarded by many as the only man who can save it (Cameron is self-aware enough to recognise that he and his fellow Tories can't). The former PM is one of the few Unionist politicians that even Alex Salmond concedes poses a threat to the nationalists. He is significantly more popular in Scotland than he is south of the border and has a strong connection with the working class swing voters that the SNP hopes will break for the Yes side on 18 September (and has been converting 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. 
 
In his speech at the TUC general council dinner this evening, Ed Miliband will also hail his former mentor's plan, vowing that "if we win the general election, we will move with utmost speed in our first Queen's Speech to enact this legislation." 
 
He will say: "Gordon Brown and Scottish Labour are right to propose a timetable to give us deadlines for delivery for a new Scotland Act. Not an Act agreed between Westminster politicians but based on the aspirations of the people of Scotland.
 
"I make this commitment as Leader of the Labour Party: if we win the general election, we will move with utmost speed in our first Queen's Speech to enact this legislation. We will act as we did in 1997 when the incoming Labour Government immediately delivered its promise of devolution. It is Scottish Labour who have drawn up a timetable and a plan for a new Scotland Act. A Labour government will deliver it."
 
After tonight, it no longer feels an exaggeration to say that if the Union survives, Brown will be recorded by history as the man who saved it. But that his intervention comes so late, after thousands have already voted by post, and seems so desperate, means it may have little positive effect - and could even harm the Unionist cause. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.