Brown understands how important it is to keep a United Kingdom — and that is why he often harps on about Britishness, most plaintively during his recent speech to the British Council; he was at it again during Wednesday’s budget when he referred to the “shared British purpose”.
But not everybody in the new Labour project grasps this idea of Britishness as firmly as the chancellor. Only last week the former home secretary David Blunkett chose to talk about the need for the English to celebrate St George’s day: “Nobody argues against celebrating St Patrick, St Andrew or St David,” he said. But St Andrew’s day is less well remembered than Burns Night. And the annual spectacle his notions may conjure up, of morris men swathed in the cross of St George, will do little to further Anglo-Scottish relations.
But 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.
Not that Whelan is a Brownite of course.
Very few pundits say that Brown couldn’t be prime minister because middle England won’t accept a chap with a Scottish accent. That barmy idea is only peddled by the dwindling band of fanatical Blairites.
In fact there have been quite a number of articles over the last couple of days suggesting there are now serious obstacles to a Scottish Prime Minister, (see the CEP Blog for a summary). That, of course, will have a knock on effect on the ambitions of the Scottish political elite.