Gordon Brown doesn’t turn up in the House Of Commons very much. He’s represented his Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituents at just 14% of votes since stepping down as Prime Minister two-and-a-half years ago, not bothering to voice an opinion on their behalf at 545 out of 635 divisions. But at least we’ve now found out why.
Brown has barely signed in to earn his £200,000-a-year salary for the last 30 months because he’s been busy working on a list of 22 questions to ask the SNP. We can tell he’s devoted his time to it single-handedly, because the list – unveiled at a speech in his constituency yesterday – has clearly never been anywhere near a sub-editor. It’s a clunking, bloated lump of leaden prose, almost entirely bereft of punch, coherence and even basic readability – any primary-school English teacher worth their salt would hold the former Prime Minister back for some extra lessons on first glance.
Nevertheless, because we’re professionals we’ve ploughed through the double negatives, split infinitives and stultifying repetition to make some sort of sense of it, and in the interests of opening up debate we’ve come up with answers to all of Gordon’s queries, even though we’re not actually in the SNP. Read on below.
SCOTTISH INTEREST RATES – WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without any guarantee of a Scottish role set Scottish interest rates?
We’re off to a bad start. Despite its name, the Bank Of England is a UK institution owned by the entire United Kingdom. Its status post-independence will have to be negotiated to take account of the 9% of it that’s currently Scottish property. So Gordon’s premise is a false one, rendering the question invalid. (But of course, even if we accepted it as true, it would be no different to the situation we have now.)
SCOTTISH INFLATION –WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without any guarantee of a constitutional role for Scotland set the Scottish inflation target?
In what will become a recurring theme in Gordon’s list, this is in fact a repeat of the previous question, designed solely to pad out the document. The answer is therefore also the same: the premise is false, and even if it were to be the case would leave us in the exact same situation we are currently.
SCOTTISH MORTGAGES -WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without any guarantee of a constitutional role for Scotland set Scottish mortgage rates?
SCOTTISH MONEY SUPPLY-WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK and not Scotland decide the Scottish money supply?
WHAT HAPPENS IN AN ECONOMIC CRISIS – WHO DECIDES
Why will the rest of the UK without a constitutional role for Scotland decide what to do in a crisis like how much quantitative easing or printing of money is done ?
WHO CHOOSES THE GOVERNOR OF THE BANK THAT DECIDES SCOTTISH INTEREST RATES?
Why will the rest of the UK with no constitutional role for Scotland decide who is Governor of the bank that decides Scottish monetary policy?
WHO CHOOSES THE PEOPLE WHO DECIDE SCOTTISH INTEREST RATES?
Why will the rest of the UK with no constitutional role for Scotland decide who are the members of the group, the Monetary Policy Committee; that supervises interest rate decisions?
SCOTTISH FISCAL POLICY
Why will England and the rest of the UK be able to demand a fiscal pact that controls Scottish spending?
SCOTTISH BORROWING POLICY
Why will England and the rest of the UK be able to demand a fiscal pact that controls Scottish borrowing?
And again. That’s nine versions of the same question. This feature is going to take a lot less time than we thought.
What happens if the Scottish Parliament has a different view on the line of succession for the Monarchy?
Woah! A new one! The answer, of course, is “absolutely nothing happens”. Neither the Scottish nor UK Parliaments has any say whatsoever in the line of succession of the monarchy. That’s sort of the point of a monarchy. (Though goodness knows why the Scottish Parliament would have a view on it anyway.)
On what basis do they claim we have an automatic right to membership of the EU?
On the basis that we’re already members of the EU, and no mechanism exists for depriving Scottish EU citizens of that status. Gordon doesn’t seem to have been keeping up with the news recently – even the leaders of the Holyrood opposition now acknowledge that Scotland would remain in the EU, with the only bone of contention being the negotiation of the precise terms.
On what basis do they claim that if Scotland joins the EU we do not also have to commit that we are obliged to join the Euro?
The construction of that sentence causes us actual physical pain every time we look at it. Ugh. Nevertheless, the answer is straightforward – it’s because while EU member states are in theory obliged to commit to joining the Euro, it’s only true in an abstract technical sense. In practice it can be deferred indefinitely, and the EU itself has said that it’s a decision for each member state, which is why the Swedes were able to have a referendum on it in 2003 and vote No.
Are their [sic] automatic rights of citizenship that come from being an English resident in Scotland?
The word you’re looking for is “there”, Gordon. And in the event of independence English residents in Scotland will naturally have the same rights regarding citizenship that all other EU citizens have. Unless the rUK has left the EU by then, of course.
Will the SNP accept that NATO is not just a military alliance generally but a nuclear weapons alliance with obligations on its members?
The SNP, one would assume, was indeed already aware of that, given that it’s a simple empirical fact. Nonetheless, 25 of NATO’s 28 member states are non-nuclear, so it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.
Can it be confirmed that there is more public spending per head in Scotland than in England?
Yes, it can. It can also be confirmed that Scotland receives back a lower percentage of public spending than it contributes, so we’re not entirely sure what the former Chancellor’s point is.
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that Scottish pensions will not be lower than English pensions?
(Sound of gunshot from offstage as Gordon’s grammar teacher commits suicide.) No, of course it can’t. Nor can’t it be not unguaranteed that English pensions won’t not fail to be unlower than Scottish pensions aren’t. Or, indeed, German or French or Dutch or Belgian or Australian or Bolivian or Malaysian ones.
Horrific brutalisation of the English language apart, nobody can “guarantee” any such things whether we stay in the Union or not, given that the UK government is already floating the idea of regional benefit levels, with Labour support. But readers can examine the respective attitudes of politicians north and south of the border and decide which they think are more committed to looking after pensions. Older readers may recall that Gordon Brown’s own record in this regard is somewhat questionable.
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that Scottish unemployment benefits will not be lower than English benefits?
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that in a separate state Scottish income support benefits will not be lower than English benefits?
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that in a separate child benefit in Scotland will not be lower than child benefit in England?
FAMILY TAX CREDITS
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that in a separate state family tax credits in Scotland will not be lower than child tax credits in England?
NATIONAL INSURANCE TO PAY FOR THE NHS
Can it be confirmed that there is no guarantee that in a separate state Scottish national insurance premiums for the NHS will not be higher than English?
Can it be confirmed that no guarantee can be given that in a separate state the minimum wage in Scotland will not be lower than in England?
And again. Just the seven versions of that one, then.
So that’s that. Out of Gordon’s 22 questions, we find that there are only actually eight different ones. Of those, one is based on an invalid premise. Another is fundamentally idiotic, calling for “guarantees” over things that can’t possibly be guaranteed for or by any nation on Earth, regardless of whether Scotland is independent or stays in the UK. The answers to the other six are already public knowledge, available to anyone with the ability to use Google or read a newspaper.
If there’s anything else we can clear up, Gordon, feel free to ask. We’re here all week.