Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Gordon Brown says 'Union helped Team GB'

Gordon Brown
Image caption Mr Brown was delivering a lecture at the Edinburgh Book Festival

Former prime minister Gordon Brown has claimed the strength of the union between Scotland and England played a part in Britain's Olympic success.

He said Team GB's cycling team, led by Scot Sir Chris Hoy, achieved greater success because of the ability to pool resources.

Mr Brown was speaking at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

The SNP said Scotland needed the job-creating powers of an independent Scottish parliament.

A referendum on Scottish independence is expected to be held in 2014.

Delivering the Donald Dewar Lecture, named after the late former first minister of Scotland, Mr Brown said he was not in favour of full financial powers for Scotland, short of independence, saying the move would result in taxes being raised.

'Common good'

The Scottish Labour MP also called for the debate on Scotland's future to be held at a "higher level", going beyond arguments such as identity.

Speaking the day after the conclusion of the London 2012 games, Mr Brown said: "Perhaps that's one of the lessons I take from the Olympics, and Chris Hoy has made the point for me, I don't have to make it for myself.

"When we pool and share resources for the common good, it's often the case that the benefit is far greater than would have occurred if we'd just summed up and added up the parts.

"Our Armed Forces, of course, has pooled our resources so you don't have a Scottish, Welsh and English army. They have come together as part of the UK Army.

"And the Olympics is pretty clear to us that, by the pooling of resources in, say, cycling, we managed to do what if you just divided the money and put a 10th to Scotland and a 10th to Yorkshire and so on you could not have achieved the same results."

Mr Brown, who served as prime minister until the Tories' victory at the last UK election, said the different parts of the UK had been able to come together to better combat issues like inequality in ways that other countries, including the US, had not been able to.

He said: "Break up the union and then you will have regionally-varied minimum wage rates, and that will mean there will be a race to the bottom with one unit trying to undercut the other and then the good undercutting the bad and the bad undercutting the worse.

"Break up the union that we've created and you will have different social security rates. Some people may welcome that at the start, but you will end up with a pensioner being treated completely differently in one part of the United Kingdom from the other and people who are unemployed giving a completely different kind of treatment or disabled people a different kind of treatment.

"I think people will think that is not progress, that is moving backwards, and there'll be a competition to see who can cut resources more quickly."

Amid the debate over whether Scotland should have more powers instead of independence, sometimes termed Devo Max, Mr Brown said: "I worry about fiscal autonomy, which is now being proposed as the next stage in devolution - fiscal autonomy means more taxes in Scotland, but not in a progressive way at all.

"It is simply to fill a gap that's left because we are not pooling and sharing resources in the United Kingdom.

"I actually favour more devolution, but I don't favour fiscal autonomy."

Responding to Mr Brown's speech, SNP Westminster Treasury spokesperson Stewart Hosie MP said: "What Scotland needs is the job-creating powers of an independent parliament, so that we can take the key decisions needed to boost growth and employment in the Scottish economy.

"The question that Gordon Brown and the anti-independence parties need to answer is why they prefer these key powers over jobs and the economy being held by a Tory-led government at Westminster - which has used them to create the double-dip recession - rather than by the Scottish Parliament which is 100% accountable to the people of Scotland.

"Scotland's interests are best served by becoming an equal and independent nation so that we have the powers needed to realise the potential of every single person who lives here - and by maintaining the social union with our friends and neighbours south of the Border, including the Queen as our joint head of state."

Section 30

The Scottish government has put forward plans to hold a vote on the country's constitutional future in the autumn of 2014, with its timetable including bringing forward a referendum Bill early next year.

But the UK government believes for that to happen, the two governments must agree how the key ballot will be staged by October.

A legal order known as a section 30 order could be used to temporarily extend Holyrood's powers to enable it to stage the referendum.

This would need to be agreed by both the Scottish and UK parliaments, before being approved by the Privy Council - a formal body of advisers to the Queen - in February.

After talks between the two governments over the issue on Monday, Scotland Office minister David Mundell said he believed an agreement by October was "realistic and achievable" and there had been a "positive step forward" at the meeting.

But a spokesman for the Scottish government stressed no final conclusions had been reached about the timetable, although he said the talks had been "constructive" and further meetings were planned.