From the Red Paper

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown, in spite of his flaws, is worthy of more respect than any other Scottish politician. His moral integrity has remained intact throughout his career, though he has been unable to realise the changes to work, wages and welfare he knows we need. It was debris of a crumbling parliamentary institution that made him stumble.

Though he never walked the walk at Westminster, he can talk with a spirit that’s rare for Labour leaders. Gordon Brown has always been good at asking questions, putting his finger on the pulse of people’s political spirit – and sometimes sounding a socialist chord that surprises those who hear him. This was the reason for his success at his last Citizens UK speech before the 2010 election, and explains the impact of his United with Labour speech. When you let Brown be Brown, the Labour Party is at its best.

He sets a level of debate that the pro-independence left should aspire to meet in argument and tone.  At his speech in Govan today he will appeal to myself and fellow party members to remember our history and the kinds of demands our movement has made and must continue to make. These, he will argue, should shape the priorities we bear in mind as we take a side and argue a case for independence or for the Union over the coming year. My own reflections on his speech will follow, but in the meantime, I have highlighted some parts of his own introduction to the Red Paper for Scotland, which demonstrate a train of thought that is useful for socialists in Scotland of all constitutional persuasions.

On the question that faced us

The irresistible march of recent events places Scotland today at a turning point – not of our own choosing but where a choice must sooner or later be made. A resurgent nationalism which forces onto the agenda the most significant constitutional decisions since the Act of Union is one aspect of what even the ‘Financial Times’ has described as “a revolt of rising expectations”.

With this judgement Gordon Brown opened his introduction to The Red Paper for Scotland, a book of contributions on the future of socialism in Scotland, on the eve of the defeated 1979 referendum on devolution.

There is a “gap now growing between people’s conditions of living and their legitimate aspirations” – as there is now. Yet the “great debate on Scotland’s future” has “tended to ignore Scotland’s real problems – our unstable economy and unacceptable level of unemployment, chronic inequalities of wealth and power and inadequate social services.”

Back in the seventies the imperative questions were those that remain today: “who shall exercise power and control the lives of our people? How can we harness our material resources and social energies to meet the needs of five million people and more? What social structure can guarantee to people the maximum control and self management over the decisions which affect their lives, allowing the planned coordination of the use and distribution of resources, in a cooperative community of equals?”

The answers need to come from socialist ideas “emerging from a far reaching analysis of economy and social” which “begins from people’s potentials, is sensitive to cultural needs, and is humane, democratic and revolutionary.”

On the social condition of Scotland

“23% of Scottish people are living at or just above the poverty line… one and a quarter million people concentrated in four large groups, old people, low paid workers, and their families, the unemployed and single parent families.

The inequalities which distort Scottish life are generated from the workplace outwards: low pay, placing at least 100,000 male workers and their families on the poverty line, insufficient provision for retirement and for families deprived of their breadwinner, and the threat and actuality of redundancy.”

Although public expenditure in Scotland is 17% higher per person than in Britain as a whole, existing social service provision tends to mirror rather than redress existing inequalities.

Today’s poor remain stigmatised by poverty not simply because social service provision is inadequate but because there is no dominant concept of reciprocity in our social services.

The proportion of the sons and daughters of working class parents among students in Scottish universities – again a most sensitive index of inequality – has been declining rather than increasing.

On the aims and arguments of the Red Paper

His Red Paper aims to “transcend that false and sterile antithesis which has been manufactured between the nationalism of the SNP and the anti-nationalism of the Unionist parties, by concentrating on the fundamental realities of inequality and irresponsible social control, of private power and an inadequate democracy.”

His key theme was that “the social and economic problems confronting Scotland arise not from national suppression nor from London mismanagement” but “the uneven and uncontrolled development of capitalism”. The “rise of modern Scottish nationalism is “a response to uneven development – in particular to the gap between people’s experiences as part of an increasingly demoralised Great Britain and their expectations at a Scottish level.” It is about the failure of Scottish and British socialists to meet rising expectation – and about the failure of their political structures to be the place for socialist victories.

The resolution of this obstacle to working class power is not to be reached “merely by recovering a lost independence or through inserting another tier of government”, but through “planned control of our economy and a transformation of democracy at all levels”.

And as for his class analysis: he said “the long standing paradox of Scottish politics has been the surging forward of working class industrial and political pressure (and in particular the loyal support given to Labour) and its containment through the accumulative failures of successive Labour Governments.”

On bringing powers to Scotland

“If the prospects for the least fortunate are to be as great as they can be, then they must have the final say – and that requires a massive and irreversible shift of power to working people, a framework of free universal welfare services controlled by the people who use them.”

“There is nothing inherently anti-socialist about economic devolution as long as Scottish Labour insists on genuine economic control in devolved areas nor is there anything remiss about taxation powers in relation to democratically decided levels of public service provision.”

His rhetoric then had striking resemblances some of the left hopes for independence today: “the real resources of Scotland are not the reserves of oil beneath the sea… but the collective energies and potential of our people whose abilities and capacities have been stultified by a social system” – seen in “working people’s frustration with and refusal to accept powerlessness and lack of control over blind social forces which determine their lives.” We need to draw on the “untapped potential for cooperative action”.

On the SNP, Labour, and our role

“[The SNP’s] programme for a redistributive ‘Scottish social justice’ – which includes an inadequate £25 minimum wage, 4% mortgages, a rates holiday, and strengthened occupational and pensions schemes – not only wrongly assumes that economic growth within a mixed economy will satisfy the divergent claims of all classes for a share in that growth but, as one study pointed out, will not substantially extend social services provision.”

“The challenge is how at one and the same time the Scottish Labour Movement can reach to the roots of people’s experiences and aspirations and lead the demand for change.”

“Labour has two choices: to deflect the present discontent, resisting the pressure for change until It becomes inevitable, at the risk of the success of an SNP which presumes the familiar priorities of wealth and power set over people, or to harness the wide ranging dissatisfaction in a socialist strategy which not only forces the pace of the advance towards socialism in Britain as a whole but seeks to revitalise the grass roots of Scottish society.”

“Scottish socialists can not support a strategy for independence which postpones the question of meeting urgent and social needs until the day after independence – but nor can they give unconditional support to maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom – and all that that entails – without any guarantee of radical social change; the question is not one of structures nor of territorial influence, but of democracy – how working people in Scotland can increase the control they have over the decisions which shape their lives and the wealth they alone produce – and in doing so aid the struggle for a shift of power to working people elsewhere.”

Cailean Gallagher

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5 thoughts on “From the Red Paper

  1. You appear to be confusing the Gordon Brown of 2008 with the Gordon Brown of 1979, most obviously in the first part of your second sentence. The funder of Iraq, the generous giver of welfare to the finance industry, and the abolisher of his own 10p tax rate, along with many other regressive actions, no longer commands moral authority.

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  2. PPP/PFI – over £200 billion in long term debt – promoted by Gordon because it was off balance sheet and it allowed Labour to say they were building schools and hospitals while he could claim to Tory England and the City that he was a prudent Chancellor and Labour had abandoned – wait for it – ‘old tax and spend’. This Blairite Ponzi scheme collapsed in the final year of Labour’s third term when a change in EU rules meant that PPP/PFI debt now had to shown on balance. The tragedy is that had Labour allowed councils and health boards to borrow from the old public sector works board in what prior to Thatcherism was the traditonal fashion, the same schools and hospitals they could have been built at higher quality for half the price. I’m afraid that if the Gordon Brown of the Red Paper still existed he would be backing both a YES vote and the Common Weal vison of Scotland currently being outlined by the Jimmy Reid Foundation…and he would left the Cabinet over Iraq instead of saying that he would pay ‘whatever it takes’ to defeat Saddam.

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  3. The modern Red paper is published next month. The aspirations and policies involved in it differ little from Common Weal or even Radical Independence Conference (RIC). They advocate a federal UK, and it is written by those who, unlike Gordon Brown, believe in carrying those visions into parliament and government, not just on to paper. The Gordon Brown of 1979 was an impressive young politician, but the Brown of 97 was a right-winger, economically. For every policy like tax credits and minimum wage, there came deregulation, privatisation and redundancies. I remember watching him and his tory counterpart flexing their muscles in parliament by fighting over who could cut the most civil service jobs. But despite that, he is still important, dont forget that Labor were the biggest party here in Scotland in the 2010 UK elections. When the rest of the UK moved away from Labour, Scotland turned to Labour under Brown.

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  4. Thanks for the comments. To be clear, I broadly agree that his policies bore no resemblance to his earlier radical claims. My suggestion is that his moral integrity is intact; his political integrity is in tatters. The Gordon Brown I mean is the one who spoke about reducing inequality and fighting poverty even while Westminster politics overwhelmed and undermined his aims – the one who delivered this speech (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BA2Jz7xIXw) even while his hand was forced to sign off the Vodaphone tax-dodge. The Gordon Brown who spoke yesterday was speaking more from the old left than the new, in language reminiscent of an older moral Brown. This doesn’t absolve him or Iraq or PFI; it just shows that he still preaches well even if he couldn’t practice it. His ‘equality by stealth’ strategy sums this up: in Westminster he pursued some redistributive ends (see page twelve of this http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/budget2010/browne.pdf for evidence of his redistribution) without making the case to the people. Perhaps all this makes him little more than a Holy Willie. But when he makes a case to those in the broad Left, rather than playing the budget to the City’s tune, then I think he is worth paying attention to.

    But Brown presumably yearns for a politics where he can pursue equality. My aim was to suggest that if, as you say Steve, the Gordon Brown of the Red Paper still did exist, he would certainly think twice about his support for the Union. (And incidentally, Jim, I am surprised that the new Red Paper has pretty much closed off debate with those of us advocating independence from similar principles, though suspect political motives for this.)

    I’m particularly interested in his old assertions that the transfer of powers should follow the demands of working people: the implication is that so long as powers are kept away from those who work, then economic power is bound to be used against them. It’s a different argument from yesterday’s, which focussed on the sharing of pooled resources at the discretion of the Labour party. The old argument is both more radical and more effective. This is what Brown proved through his career: that if working people lack power then equality does not really alter people’s control of their own lives. A moral case becomes strong only if those in whose name it is made hold the powers to effect it. The challenge is for us to show how powers of independence could work to share such power in the way Brown once sought. If we can do that, we are in a pretty strong place for the coming year.

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