Gordon Brown in passionate appeal to wavering Labour voters
The former prime minister refers to the ‘risks of the known’ an ‘economic trapdoor’ from which Scotland might never escape.
Gordon Brown has delivered a vintage performance at the final Better Together rally of the Scottish referendum campaign, where he warned that Alex Salmond has set an “economic trapdoor” from which the people of Scotland would never return.
The former prime minister, who was speaking without notes, combined a passionate appeal to wavering voters to reject independence with an economic demolition job on his opponents, reviving memories of his days as chancellor.
Brown even appeared to quote one of the most famous lines from Macbeth to warn that a yes vote would be irreversible. “Once it’s done, it’s done,” he said, apparently alluding to Lady Macbeth who said to her husband after he murdered King Duncan: “What’s done is done”.
Brown was given star billing at the final rally of the cross-party Better Together campaign in the Maryhill area of Glasgow after strategists decided that he was the figure best able to reach out to the key group of voters who will decide the referendum. These are natural Labour voters, mainly living in the west of Scotland, who appear in recent polls to have been attracted by the positive vision of the pro-independence campaign.
Amid criticisms that the Better Together campaign has turned off voters by being relentlessly negative, the rally at a community hall close to Glasgow city centre was carefully designed to provide positive images for television on the final day of the campaign. Brown spoke in front of campaigners holding banners that said: Love Scotland Vote No. The comedian Eddie Izzard compered the event and the leaders of the three main UK parties in Scotland, plus the Better Together leader Alistair Darling, were piped in.
In the main message of his speech, Brown made a direct appeal to wavering voters to think of the “real risks” of independence.
“Let us tell those people who have still got doubts and are wavering, people who were thinking of voting yes yesterday but could be persuaded today – let us tell them about the real risks,” he said.
“This is not the fear of the unknown. This is now the risks of the known – an economic minefield where problems could implode at any time, an economic trapdoor down which we go, from which we might never escape.”
Brown then listed seven “real risks” of independence that he said had been unaddressed by the SNP:
• The uncertainty over what currency Scotland would use.
• The default from debt “threatened” by the SNP after Salmond suggested that an independent Scotland would decline to assume its share of the UK’s debt if Westminster rejects a currency union.
• The need to build up £30bn in reserves if Scotland resorts to “sterlingisation” – using the pound outside a formal currency union.
• Prices rising in the shops.
• Increases in interest and mortgage rates.
• A million jobs linked to Scotland’s membership of the UK.
• A financial shortfall that not even oil revenues can make up for. He said: “A massive financial hole that means the risk to the NHS does not come from us, it comes from the policies of the SNP.”
Brown then sought to lay out a positive vision for Scotland in the UK, in contrast to “the Scotland of insults and abuse and threats and recriminations”. He said: “The Scotland of Adam Smith and John Smith, the Scotland of civility and compassion, the Scotland of comradeship and community is bigger and better than what we have seen.”
In one of the most passionate sections of his speech, he said: “Our vision for the future of Scotland – yes a Scottish parliament for fairness, battling for equality across the UK. But our vision is bigger than that – at every point, particularly through our membership of the UK, to fight for what is our dream, what is our demand. A world not of a separate state, but a world of social justice people can believe in.
“What kind of message does Scotland send to the world if, tomorrow, we said we are going to give up on sharing, we are going to smash our partnership, we are going to abandon co-operation and we are going to throw the idea of solidarity into the dust. This is not the Scotland I know and recognise.”
Brown had, until recent weeks, campaigned mainly for the Scottish Labour party and had not been heavily involved in the Better Together campaign. But as opinion polls appeared to show that natural Labour voters were shifting to the Yes Scotland campaign, he energised the no campaign by outlining his plans for accelerated devolution for Scotland. He called this home rule within the UK.
Brown believed that the Better Together campaign had two fundamental flaws. It was too negative and failed to outline a positive vision of the future – a problem he addressed by bouncing Downing Street when he announced his plans for greater devolution. He also believed that Better Together had allowed the Yes Scotland campaign to turn the debate into a divisive one between Scotland and the rest of the UK rather than focusing on what is best for Scotland.
But the former prime minister, who said he was voting for his children, delivered a stark warning that a yes vote could not be reversed. “This is a decision from which there is no going back. This is a decision when once it’s done, it’s done. And so I say I have to vote and take account of the needs of my children and future generations and the future of our country in centuries to come.
“If you have any doubts … if you are thinking of the future of Scotland and if you don’t know, the answer has to be no.”