GORDON Brown was back on stage this week, stumbling around like a pitiful old cabaret singer. His songs have sounded better in days gone by.

Someone senior in the Labour Party really needs to sit down with Brown and gently let him down. His interventions are becoming ­increasingly ­detached from political ­discourse and are now actually harming Labour’s already ­tenuous hold on ­constitutional affairs.

At the heart of Brown’s act is a superficially appealing idea which, like a cheap Ikea wardrobe, falls apart before it is fully formed. His intellectual instinct, borne out of decades of engaging with New Labour think-tanks, is to find a third way through any impasse.

Labour’s keenness to abstain or prevaricate in the face of hard choices does not endear them to voters and often angers those that might otherwise support them.

What is fundamentally dishonest about Brown’s “third way” in the independence debate is that it is predicated on the ­fantasy that Labour will seize power on both sides of the border and reinvent the British state. They are holding out false promises to an electorate that knows ­better and so consequently their vote slumps, or they are squeezed out by those with clearer propositions.

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In the immediate aftermath of last week’s elections several prominent political commentators were noticeably trapped in a cul-de-sac about what constitutes a mandate. Desperate to undermine the SNP’s remarkable victory, they ­ignored the electoral system itself, the role of the Greens as an indy party, and most callously of all, some even applied criteria about mandates that would render Westminster ungovernable.

Within a matter of days – sniffing ­another angle that could inhibit ­independence – some of the very same commentators relished the prospect of a third option referendum often described flakily as “devo-max”.

The argument goes that many soft No and soft Yes voters might be inclined to vote for that third option. All very well, but where is the mandate? The Conservatives were adamant that a vote for them is a vote against an independence referendum, and they got well and truly humped at the polls. The Liberal Democrats under the pneumatic Willie Rennie were similarly obstructive and lost their status as a major party. As for the Labour Party, their manifesto never mentioned a third-question referendum, they were in favour of rebuilding and renewing the economy, and wriggled from any clear ­constitutional choices.

Despite a new leader and a spritely campaign, Labour went backwards too. So, if we want to apply the litmus test of an electoral mandate, there is no mandate for devo-max no matter who might theoretically vote for it. No one argued for it and no one voted for it. In much the same way, many Scots would vote for free Pina Colada’s in the late afternoon, but since no one led with that policy pledge we ­cannot be certain how many, and ­whether it would have been a universal swing across Scotland.

To be fair to Labour their manifesto was hurriedly pulled together under new leadership and there is much within it worthy of support, but they did not articulate a third way simply because to do so would be to tacitly support a referendum.

I am easily irritated by fanciful ideas like devo-max – not because of old wounds like “The Vow”, or even the ­Labour Party’s spiteful and self-injuring behaviour during the deliberations of the Smith Commission, but because it needs the electoral support of England and its politicians. It is an idea most of them don’t know is even being mooted, they are mainly disengaged with our ­political ­conversations and so they cannot be trusted to go along with them.

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This week in an excellent letter to the Guardian, reader Colin Montgomery slammed home another incontrovertible fact: “the actions of the last five years since Brexit have proved that there is no appetite en masse in the English polity for a union of equals. And there never will be.”

That very fact throws a darker shadow of doubt on Labour. This is a party which seems incapable of winning power on either side of the border, let alone both. Quite apart from the structural imbalances of the current British state, reforming it needs to be a battle won in England, where rampant exceptionalism and a free-market Tory chumocracy is highly unlikely to embrace a federal Britain.

There cannot be devo-max without England granting it and a much broader electorate understanding its purpose and value. If you can explain how this will happen you can have your third question and I will deliver free Pina Coladas to your house daily.

Whilst slating Gordon Brown’s latest intervention, we should be generous in respecting Labour’s honourable role in devolution, particularly modernising Britain’s legislatures with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. But typically it was the bit that Labour didn’t modernise that is now profoundly the problem.

BY failing to press for proportional represent­ation at Westminster and leaving the archaic House of Lords largely untouched they have enabled the Conservatives to preserve real power and spending at the centre, whilst chipping away at Scotland and at Labour Party strongholds to the north.

It was this failure to truly modernise the British political system that allowed David Cameron to deliver his Downing Street “English votes for English laws” speech on the day after the 2014 referendum result. No one ever cared about its underlying unfairness, all that mattered was that the slogan appealed to London tax-drivers, bar-room bores and those ­easily attracted to the Tories.

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For many, 2014 was a defining moment. Even as I lay wounded on my couch there was a horrible feeling that it was Labour, the party of social justice that was relishing the damage that had been done. It was a Labour MP, Ian Davidson who infamously said: “The debate will go on in the sense there is a large number of wounded still to be bayoneted.”

Although Gordon Brown’s interventions still attract media attention, they seem to be of declining in value as the years pass but I admit to a pang of regret that his substantial contribution to British life has been so routinely waylaid.

I first heard his name in 1972, when he was sent as an apprentice to the constituency offices of Perth Labour Party. My mother was the office manager, and Brown’s first job was sweeping the floor with another student newbie Gavin Strang. It was during those now distant days when Scotland voted Labour en masse. The office is now derelict, and it sits like an old relic next to a St Johnstone Supporters Club, as one club has thrived, the other has lost its purpose.

Books will be written about how the Labour Party surrendered its relevance in modern Scotland but being thirled to the Union and to the parliamentary status quo has not helped its cause.

It is that very predilection for tweaking with and then bowing to the status quo that makes Labour such an untrustworthy party to deliver on radical federalism.

They have a very tough future ahead and some even bigger decisions to take but devo-max will not even make it on to the agenda of their next annual conference. They don’t know what it is, they don’t know how to achieve it, and they haven’t a clue how to sell it to England.

And yet Gordon Brown bungles on stage and expects Scots to fall for it. ­Sorry, we don’t zip up the back.