Gordon Brown delivered another of his trademark speeches on Britishness last night at the London Business School.
By now the subtext to this sort of thing should be clear. Brown has to emphasise the value of the union, because it underpins his own aspiration to be Prime Minister, even though because he is a Scottish MP, many of the decisions he would take would not affect his constituents.
As his former acoylte Charlie Whelan put it recently:
for the sublest rulers of the Raj, epitomised by Brown and by the former defence secretary George Robertson, the thing is to keep banging the drum for the UK. Let the devolution settlement keep the Nats at bay in the north; keep the Britishness to the fore in the south, to preserve the union. This might be labelled the enlightened policy.
That is not to say that Brown’s convictions are not deeply held, and parts of this latest speech are powerful.
There is a golden thread that runs through British history – of the liberty of the individual, the individual standing firm against tyranny and the arbitrary use of power. It runs from that historic day in Runnymede in 1215, to the Bill of Rights in 1689, to the social and economic as well as political liberties we cherish today.
Where I differ with Brown is that I see the Acts of Union as strengthening arbitrary state power rather than individual liberty, the Crown rather than the Commonwealth.
This is especially clear in relation to the union between Britain and Ireland, which came about after the defeat of the United Irishmen, who were themselves closely linked to the Scottish enlightenment and the broader liberal tradition.
Brown himself cites the United States as sharing this tradition, but does not point out that it was these very values that led America to break with Britain, inspired by an Englishman, Tom Paine.
The present form of the union between England and Scotland, with its Scottish Labour MPs being whipped through the Commons on English issues, reminds one of the rotten boroughs that Paine criticised.
That spectacle makes it clear the union is more about preserving state power than about preserving liberty.