Conservatives risk ‘blowing the Union apart’ warns Brown in Glasgow University speech

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  • Former PM talks of a “perfect storm” in a speech delivered in the Memorial Chapel

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Ross Fraser
Writer

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned David Cameron’s government that they could “blow the union apart” unless further powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible.

Speaking in the University Memorial Chapel, Brown delivered a speech entitled “Scotland – what next?” on Thursday 8 October. In front of an audience of 300, and characteristically without notes, Brown accused the Conservatives of not following through on the delivery of considerable new powers to the Scottish parliament, which had been proposed by the Smith Commission.

He said: “The powers that the Scottish Parliament were promised – and need but have yet to be given – are the clear and unambiguous right to top-up welfare benefits and an end to any suggestion that a UK government can prevent the Scottish parliament administering such change if it decides to do so,”

Brown’s comments come in the midst of a row over child tax credits. At the last budget, the government announced plans to cut £12 billion by limiting credits to the first two children only. Throughout his speech, Brown suggested that powers over benefits and social security are still reserved to Westminster, and that the Scottish parliament currently has no recourse to stop the planned cuts.

“Without the changes that give the parliamentary welfare top-up powers to Scotland, we face a perfect storm – an explosive cocktail of measures that could blow the union apart – the Conservative government defying the Smith proposals on welfare, the very issue where their controversial imposition of cuts hits Scotland hard.”

The Scotland bill – which the government says will contain “significant financial powers” – will soon go through its report stage in the House of Commons. But Brown, who played a pivotal role in last year’s independence referendum, called for urgent changes to be made to the bill, saying that otherwise the prime minister would be breaking his promise to fully implement the Smith Commission proposals.

Brown also warned of increasing child poverty levels, and said that the new powers could have an impact on what the Scottish parliament could do to alleviate this issue. He defended Labour’s recorded on child poverty, citing a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which has projected that by 2020 nearly 300,000 children will be living in poverty, compared with 170,000 in 2010. Brown blamed this sharp rise largely on cuts to welfare.

In a separate point, Brown paid homage to a fellow Kirkcaldian, the economist and philosopher Adam Smith. Smith, who was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow in the mid-eighteenth century, was a major influence for the former prime minister. Brown claims Adam Smith’s work helped form his vision of global cooperation.

A member of parliament since from 1983 to 2015, chancellor of the exchequer from 1997 to 2007, and prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, Brown chose to retire this year from national politics. He received an honorary degree from the University in April 2015.