Brown emphasises ‘love for Scotland’ in call for No vote

Britain greater than sum of its parts, former prime minister argues

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown: “We are not being asked to decide if Scotland is a nation – it will still be a nation on September 19th.” Photograph: Reuters/Russell Cheyne

Former British prime minister Gordon Brown: “We are not being asked to decide if Scotland is a nation – it will still be a nation on September 19th.” Photograph: Reuters/Russell Cheyne

 

Gordon Brown’s latest book, My Scotland, Our Britain: a Future Worth Sharing, was piled high at the back of the hall in Coatbridge High School ready for sale.

The former British prime minister argues in the book that Scottish and English values have blended over the centuries to make the UK better than the sum of its parts.

In the minutes before Brown arrived on stage, rumours spread among Scottish Labour Party officials of a new poll showing that the existence of the UK is under threat in this month’s referendum.

Brows furrowed: the Labour Party understands momentum in an election campaign, where the perception of reality can create that reality. For now, the pro-union side is struggling to generate such momentum.

The sale of Brown’s book in Coatbridge jars slightly, as it fails to record Irish Catholics’ contribution to the building of Scotland.

For a century and more, Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire, 10 miles from Glasgow, was one of the places that newly arrived Irish immigrants, destitute and often hungry, went to seek shelter.

In time, its relations with the largely Protestant nearby Airdrie became a byword for the sectarianism that plagued Scotland for generations, but which has begun to fade, if not disappear, in recent years.

Today, Coatbridge retains its Irish heritage, hosting the largest St Patrick’s Day event in Scotland, while many of the Irish-Scots families still have deep familial links with Ireland, particularly Donegal.

Sectarianism went both ways. In the early 1990s, all 17 of the Labour councillors sitting on Monklands council were Catholic. The three Scottish National Party (SNP) councillors from Airdrie were Protestant.

The council faced allegations that Catholic Coatbridge had received a disproportionate share of the budget, the majority of council jobs and an unequal share of promotions.

An opinion poll taken two days before the byelection held after Labour leader John Smith’s untimely death in 1994 found that 80 per cent of Catholics supported Labour, while two-thirds of Protestants backed the SNP.

Relations between Labour and the SNP are no better today, particularly since the former has not yet come to terms with no longer automatically being top dog in Scottish politics.

Security measures

Elaine Smith

House of Commons MP Tom Clarke has represented Coatbridge for 32 years. “They call me Tom in Coatbridge,” he told the audience.

Responding to the pitch for independence by “the nationalists”, he said a woman had told him that “it was like buying a Hoover and being told when I ask how it works to wait until I have paid for it”.

Clarke said Scottish first minister Alex Salmond was offering Scots “a menu without a price” and had been unable to answer questions over the currency Scotland would use if it votes Yes.

“Three main words have emerged during the referendum: patriotism, the pound and pensions,” said Clarke, adding that he was “proud to call himself a member of the British Labour Party”.

Introducing Brown, Clarke said his fellow Scot had done “a great deal for the people of Scotland and a great deal for the people of Britain”.

Brown has a practised routine for such gatherings, which usually begins – as it did here – with a story of one of his first meetings as a young politician in Kirkcaldy. Brown recalled that he thought he was meant to speak for 45 minutes, so he gave every detail about pensions known to man.

Afterwards, the chairman of the event apologised that there would be no time for other speakers. There was no time for the band either, and the food was gone. “But I thought you said to speak for 45 minutes,” said the youthful Brown, despairingly.

“Four to five minutes,” the chairman replied.

Following this anecdote, Brown went on to tell the almost 300-strong audience: “I yield to no one in my patriotism. We yield to no one in our patriotism, in our love of Scotland.”

He urged voters to reject the independence call, adding: “We are not being asked to decide if Scotland is a nation – it will still be a nation on September 19th. We are not being asked if we want a Scottish parliament. We have one and it will be maintained.”

At the end of the event, Brown embraced supporters, stood for photographs and signed copies of his book.

Looking on, the chairman of Labour’s constituency party, Tom Nolan, said people in Coatbridge would once have voted 80/20 against independence. Today, the margin is 60/40. “That’s good enough,” he said.