UK may be consigned to 'history books' in a decade, says Gordon Brown

Former prime minister Gordon Brown has warned the United Kingdom could be consigned to the "history books" in a decade unless there is urgent reform of the constitution.

Gordon Brown calls for a new British constitution
Gordon Brown calls for a new British constitution

The ex-Labour leader is calling for a "radical plan of action" to create a renewed sense of British values, as consistent polling shows that a majority of Scots now support leaving the UK.

In the wake of Boris Johnson's reported claim that devolution in Scotland has been a "disaster", Mr Brown uses an essay in the New Statesman to argue it is the "out of touch" and "over-centralised" establishment in Westminster that is at the root of the nation's ills.

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His "four pillar" plan proposes more empowerment for the UK regions, better joint working between the UK Government and the devolved nations, and a new Senate of the Nations and Regions to replace the House of Lords - so that everyone in the country can feel they are listened to and respected.

Overarching them, he proposes the creation of a new constitution that sets out the "shared values and cultural bonds" across the UK.

He acknowledges it was "naïve" not to have seen that devolution could create "a megaphone for intensifying resentment", but says this underlines the need to set out what the UK has in common, across its regions and nations.

"The pandemic has revealed what has long been true: either we reform and renew and survive, or we resist and refuse and, in ten years’ time, having failed to act, the United Kingdom will follow the British Empire into the history books as an anachronism whose time has passed," Mr Brown states.

"Boris Johnson's reported 'devolution has been a disaster' outburst - implying his management from the centre is a great success story - shows how out of touch he is, part of a No.10 faction that does not even admit that there is a problem and that the days of over-centralisation are numbered."

The former prime minister argues the pandemic has shown that Whitehall does not have a "Scottish or Welsh problem" - or a devolution problem - but a UK-wide problem, as shown by the growing opposition in Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham to the UK’s Government’s failure to listen and consult.

The pandemic, he says, has "brutally exposed … an inflexible, insensitive centre still trying to imprison a multinational country of diverse regions, with their own histories and needs, into the straitjacket of a unitary state".

The UK Government should now hold citizens’ assemblies, before then appointing a Constitutional Convention. Such a convention, he says, should "examine what are not abstract questions of interest mainly to lawyers, but - as we can see from recent events - life and death matters that directly affect our daily lives."

This would cover areas such as public health, employment support, and environmental protection.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford this week stepped up calls for a repeat of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, suggesting such a vote could be held next year.

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