Gordon gallops to the rescue of Precious Union

You’ll sigh with relief at the news that Gordon Brown has saddled up his old grey mare and is galloping to the rescue of the fair maiden Precious Union. Again. First time out was when he threw his weight behind the Better Together crowd in Scotland during the run-up to Scotland’s independence referendum. This time he’s charging towards the battle front where, he says, not just Scotland but Wales and N Ireland may/will be lost if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Gordon is from and lives in Scotland and is very concerned. He believes the UK is “sleepwalking into oblivion” and he roundly condemns Boris Johnson’s “destructive, populist, nationalist ideology.”

Sleep-walking into oblivion? I thought that was what Gordon did to the Labour Party when he took over from Tony Blair: blunder after blunder until the way was clear for the Tories to take over.

Brown is right about Boris Johnson being destructive and populist, but to include ‘nationalism’ in his list of terrible things is like saying because  a broken bottle has been used to wound someone, bottles are terrible things.

Does it really need saying? – Love of and pride in one’s country is good and natural. Because Scotland and the rest of us want to crawl away from Mother Britain doesn’t mean we’re mad or bad, it just means we want to run our own show. As Peadar Tóibín asks in my forthcoming book on the Border and Brexit: “Would you want your best friend to make all the major decisions in your life?” The obvious answer is no, and in the end that’s all that the people of Ireland and the people of Scotland and, who knows, the people of Wales are asking: to be allowed to run their own affairs, make their own decisions. A very simple request and a very desirable one, even if it doesn’t match with Gordon’s chivalrous devotion to the UK.

They say that Gordon is blind in one eye, owing to an injury playing rugby when young. There are signs that his limited vision may extend to politics.

“It follows that only thus, as an outward-looking, tolerant, fair-minded and pragmatic people, can Britain recover its cohesion and common purpose.”  Tolerant? Fair-minded?  I know English people to whom those adjectives could justifiably be applied. But equally I can think of things that English people have done in Ireland down the centuries, and especially in the last fifty years,  which would make words like ‘tolerant’ and ‘fair-minded’ the last words a half-sane person would apply to them. Tolerant in Derry on Bloody Sunday? Fair-minded in Ballymurphy? Or could any word other than brutal to describe the cases of state collusion listed in Ann Cadwallader’s book Lethal Allies.

But we must at the same time remember where Gordon is coming from. He’s spent a life-time steeped in Westminster politics, where he rose to the very top.  A political heavyweight. A man of substance.  But not exactly a representative Scot. According to recent polling, over 60% of Scots want independence if there’s a no-deal Brexit.

Why any Scot wouldn’t want independence regardless of Brexit is baffling.  The Scottish singing duo The Proclaimers put it well in ‘Cap in Hand’: “ We fight – when they ask us/We boast – then we cower/ We beg/For a piece of/ What’s already ours.”

In the interests of a new Ireland, we have been urged to try to see things through the eyes of our unionist fellow-countrymen. And so we should. But we should also be clear about what it is we’re seeking, and how self-evidently reasonable our goal is.  It’s like Paul McCartney sang so long ago, when he was banned by the tolerant and fair-minded British Broadcasting Corporation: “Give Ireland back to the Irish/Don’t make them have to take it away.”

Gordon Brown once famously claimed that he enjoyed listening to the Arctic Monkeys.  Maybe he should add the Proclaimers and McCartney to his playlist.

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