It is worth reflecting on Vincent Cable’s essay in The Red Paper on Scotland (Edinburgh University Student Publications Board, 1975) edited by one Gordon Brown in the long distant era of the radical, student 1970s. Brown then did a good impersonation of Citizen Smith, the TV character in the BBC series, mouthing the in-word ‘cool’ phrases and reference points of the age, making all of right gestures, and yet despite it all being quite conservative for the times and radical politics.
Tom Bower’s long and frankly at points laughable biography of Brown falls for the myth that there was a ‘Red Broon’, but this is a book which seriously tries to tell us John Smith was a ‘full blooded socialist’, so no sense of nuance of the inner workings of Labour there.
Anyway Cable’s essay on the problems of Glasgow in terms of poverty, disadvantage and need is a bit Brownite in tone, i.e.: being full of facts and a bit dull, but in it are a couple of gems.
Cable having spent three years on Glasgow Corporation as a Labour councillor, elected the same year as Michael Kelly, Jean McFadden and one Michael Martin, worked as an economics lecturer at Glasgow University. In his contribution, he sees from the mid-1970s that Scotland is, economically and politically, moving from the West to the East, aided by the discovery of oil. He then states that the left have no real positive programme in Scotland to address its numerous problems, instead having a ‘defensive’ nature.
Yet what is most interesting is Cable’s views on independence where he looks forward to Scotland in the 1980s and concedes:
Scotland could, in all probability, expect in the 1980s to be more prosperous as an independent country.
Given that Vincent Cable is the only prominent Westminster politician from any of the three main UK parties who has any real sense of public respect – a statement I don’t think is in any way an overstatement – this is a fascinating comment. And it is revealing that given Cable’s reputation and rise that the Scottish Nationalists have never found or used these comments.
The same is true of Gordon Brown’s brief consideration of ‘English Votes for English Laws’, something he supported in 1980 in a co-written chapter with academic Henry Drucker in The Politics of Nationalism and Devolution (Longman, 1980). These are rather embarrassing opinions for the great man to have held, and it is also telling about the state of our politics that no Tory researcher has found them and used them. The once great Conservative Campaign Guide, published at every election from 1922 to 1997, would have easily swept up these remarks in their research trawl.
What all of this points to is both at a Scottish and UK level of hollowed out, exhausted political parties, who increasingly husband their scarce resources to engage in the war of manoeuvre, positioning and attrition, which makes up modern politics. Cable and Brown are entitled to change their views over such a long timeframe, but it would be useful if we could reference their opinions.