The Truth

Brown Confused as Scots Labour Leader Calls for Independence Vote .........

added 8/5/08

The Guardian
Thursday May 8 2008

Sometimes Gordon Brown speaks as if he wants to wish away reality. He did it yesterday afternoon at prime minister's questions. Asked by David Cameron about Wendy Alexander's public conversion to the merits of a referendum on Scottish independence, the prime minister did not stonewall or dodge the question: he answered it head-on by denying that Labour's Scottish parliamentary leader supported any such thing. Even Mr Cameron looked surprised by this ingenious inversion of the truth. Ms Alexander has, after all, spent the last few days trumpeting the merits of her new policy, intended to flush out Scotland's nationalist administration, which talks of independence but knows perfectly well that any immediate vote on the issue would be lost. "We shouldn't leave it to the fag-end of a parliament to get around to testing public opinion," she said on Tuesday. "Bring it on."

The result is that Labour has now taken devolution to its logical conclusion: it offers voters on different sides of the border conflicting constitutional policies. At Holyrood, Ms Alexander backs an early referendum - her words could hardly be clearer. At Westminster, Mr Brown remains firmly opposed and claims no independence referendum is planned. Yesterday he said that Scotland's constitutional future was in the hands of Sir Kenneth Calman, who is heading one of the lumbering commissions of which the prime minister is so fond, looking at ways devolution can be made more effective. "I hope that we can see progress in that commission and we will review that progress before making any further decision," Mr Brown told MPs. But the Calman review is not considering independence and anyway will not report finally until late next year.

Ms Alexander's constitutional timetable is more rapid than that. Her decision to back a referendum was brave and surprising. It was also an obvious test of Mr Brown's authority. She is said to have announced the change of policy without telling the prime minister, even though constitutional matters remain under Westminster control. His response leaves her exposed: she can hardly retreat from her support for a referendum, after backing one in such clear terms. But Mr Brown seems determined to stop one, even if it means humiliating Ms Alexander. The winner from this mess is the Scottish National party. It has much to gain from Labour infighting over Scotland's constitutional future. There is a case for a vote now and a case for opposing one, too. But to propose both things at once is absurd.

The rest of the article can be found here The Guardian