Scotland politics

Gordon Brown calls for Scottish politics 'reset'

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Media captionGordon Brown wants to "reset" Scottish politics in a bid to shift the focus from the constitutional debate

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said politicians in Scotland must stop obsessing about constitutional change and focus on improving people's lives.

The Labour MP issued his challenge at a speech in Glasgow.

He asked the SNP to explain how it will use the extra powers to be devolved to Scotland, outlined in the Smith Commission report.

Mr Brown told the BBC: "Scottish politics has got to reset and Labour is pressing the reset button."

The SNP said they would use the new powers "to govern in the best interests of the Scottish people".

Mr Brown, the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, is reportedly planning to stand down at the general election in May but it is understood he does not intend to comment about that yet.

Instead he focused on the powers over income tax and welfare which the three main UK parties have pledged will be devolved to Scotland after the general election.

Mr Brown argued that the Smith Commission means a future Westminster government would no longer be able to foist the "bedroom tax" or the poll tax on Scotland.

Urging the SNP to accept the result of the referendum, Mr Brown outlined five areas in which he said Scotland would benefit from a powerful Scottish Parliament within the UK: youth employment, the NHS, the wider economy, pensioners and "fairness".

Image copyright Smith commission

He highlighted Labour's plans for a "bankers tax", a "mansion tax" and an increase in the top rate of tax, to 50% for people earning more than £150,000 per year.

Mr Brown made his speech in front of an audience of Labour councillors in Glasgow, where the party holds all seven seats at Westminster, six of them with majorities greater than 10,000.

It is nonetheless expected to face an election challenge in the city from the SNP after Glaswegians bucked the national trend and voted "Yes" in the independence referendum.

With that in mind, Mr Brown insisted that Labour was the only party which could tackle inequality while at the same time defending Scotland's place within the United Kingdom and maintaining the benefits which he says that union brings.

"The focus has got to move from the constitution to economic change," said Mr Brown.

"It's not now what the parliament is, the question is what it can do."

The former Labour leader appeared to throw his weight behind the Smith Commission despite previously expressing grave concerns about the dangers of devolving control of income tax, including the ability to set rates and bands, to the Scottish Parliament.

Two classes

In the weeks after the people of Scotland rejected independence at the ballot box, Mr Brown warned that such a plan was a "Tory trap" which would lead to Scottish MPs being stripped of their voting rights at Westminster.

In an interview with the BBC on 30 September, he said "75% of it or so could be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the other 25% left to Westminster."

Mr Brown said: "If we do it another way there will always be someone knocking at the door saying Scottish MPs should be taken out of voting on income tax at Westminster and then the budgets at Westminster will be distorted by having two classes of members of parliament voting them.

"It is not in Scotland's interest."

Image caption John Swinney says the proposals fall short of Home Rule

Although the proposals in the Smith Commission go further on tax than Mr Brown wanted, Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney said they still fell "far short of the 'modern form of Scottish home rule' promised by Mr Brown" during the referendum campaign.

The SNP is keen to highlight comments from former Labour first minister Lord McConnell in the House of Lords on Thursday that the Smith Commission "may come to regret putting all the eggs in the income tax basket rather than looking at a spread of taxes".

Responding to Mr Brown's speech, Mr Swinney, who is also the finance secretary in the Scottish government, said: "It is not for Gordon Brown, or any politician or party, to presume to dictate what the terms of political debate in Scotland should be - that is up to the people as it always should be, and they will have their say at the ballot box in May.

"Gordon Brown and the Labour leadership stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in the No campaign and now know they face paying a very high electoral price for that.

"It says it all that this speech was to a room full of Labour councillors - once again, Labour are having conversations with themselves and not with the ordinary people they claim to represent.

"The fact is the package of proposals from the Smith Commission, welcome though they are, do not go anywhere near meeting Gordon Brown's pledges of 'near federalism' and 'home rule'. As such, they fall far short of the expectations of civic Scotland, including the STUC, and of a majority of public opinion across Scotland as whole."

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