Scotland and devolution: is Gordon Brown making life difficult for his party?

The former PM’s promises could cause trouble for Labour.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Now that the impassioned desperation of “The Vow” days before the Scottish referendum has made the necessary transmutation into the administrative mire of an independent commission, is it time Gordon Brown stopped?

Credited by many as the “saviour of the Union”, having eloquently made the 11th hour promise of significantly more power to Scotland, it appears that his intervention is causing some trouble for his own party.

Brown’s on-the-hoof policy proposals to Scotland pre-referendum were not only a surprise to the Prime Minister – who was not informed of Brown’s plan beforehand – but were also ahead of what the Labour was saying at the time.

Though the three main party leaders hastily made the “Vow” for a drastic handover of power to Scotland following Brown’s statements, they now have to deal with the fallout of such pledges.

The Smith Commission, a cross-party body put in place to decide Scotland’s new powers, has been set up and will follow the timetable of having draft legislation prepared by Burns Night. As the Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael dryly told me: “It will probably be as long as Tam O'Shanter but not quite as entertaining or poetic.”

Though not quite as vocal as the debate happening between the parties on English votes for English laws, there are differences between the Conservatives and Labour on how much power to devolve to Scotland. The Tories want to go further on the handover of tax levying powers than Labour does. The Financial Times explains this difference in detail:

The Conservatives and Lib Dems want Edinburgh to be in charge of setting rates and bands of personal income tax while Labour would impose limits. Under Labour’s plan, for example, the Scottish parliament could increase the higher and additional rates of tax but not cut them.

The handover of further autonomy on tax and welfare was part of the last-minute plea to Scotland led by Brown. I hear from a source close to the Smith Commission that those on the Labour side of Scottish devolution plans are concerned they won’t be able to support plans as strong as Brown first proposed.

There is concern that their former leader will make them come across as tame, and even reneging on the Vow, by virtue of the passion of his original promises. This could explain Brown’s sudden vocal condemnation this week of David Cameron’s plan to devolve total income tax control to Scotland.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.