GORDON Brown gave a short talk for his think tank Our Scottish Future on Wednesday evening which drew an audience of more than 300 via Zoom. It was illuminating for what he said and didn’t say, and comments and points made by participants.

The former prime minister elicits strong emotions across the political spectrum. However, he is currently enjoying a positive period in making the case for global co-operation on Covid-19 vaccines, looking like a moral colossus compared to current Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Brown made the case for Scotland in the Union, one that he insists has to be framed more in the positive than the negative.

Time and again he outlined his passionate belief that “Scotland deserves better than this” and has the ambition to lead on far-reaching change at home, contributing to the UK and internationally.

Brown talked of “a positive, patriotic, progressive Scottish future” which sounds an alluring invitation. He is clearly motivated by many things which are right things to be motivated by such as tackling poverty, insecurity, inequality and drug deaths.

Brown took time to lay into “the weakness of the nationalist case … where they have no credible answers” before reciting a very long list which included the EU, borders, currency and more.

Even more pronounced, Brown consistently choose to caricature the Scottish independence debate declaring that “the SNP want to force us to choose between being Scottish and British”. He framed the 2014 debate as one where to be “pro-Scottish was to be for independence” and to be against independence was to “be anti-Scottish”.

He did say it was “less important to spend time exposing the SNP” and more important to “stress a positive vision of Scotland”. Yet he took comfort in laying into the limits of nationalism and independence, describing it as “Scotland going it alone”, “separatism” and “a 19th-century solution” – while posing the politics of “co-operation” and “solidarity” as synonymous with the Union.

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What was illuminating was that Brown reached for “a new Britain” and “a more flexible constitution” which went beyond the “unfinished business of devolution”. Here there was no detail or hint of Brown’s work on Labour’s Constitutional Commission.

Nor was there any reflection on his role in government in centralising command and control politics as chancellor and PM, or how to reform and democratise the deformed UK political system. Let alone did he seriously address the English or federal questions.

There were numerous interesting comments in the debate which displayed a nuance beyond Brown’s take. Lewis Condy said: “Many supporters of independence believe Scotland doesn’t get the UK Government it votes for” and asked: “Would you think a PR voting system in the UK would address this?”

GRAHAM Dane responded:“Electoral reform is no guarantee of good government. Constitutional change does not necessarily solve problems.”

Jamie Nicolas, a student at St Andrews University and a LibDem, asked about the prospect for serious UK-wide reform given all the obstacles: “I’ve spoken to people many times about the idea of a reformed UK, but nearly every time I talk about this, I’m told it would be impossible or that those in power won’t allow it or ‘England just keeps voting Tory anyway’.”

These observations were left hanging in the debate but the bigger question for Brown and anyone interested in the independence debate irrespective of their position is to try to get past the partisan noise wherever it comes from.

Brown gets an irrational, indefensible degree of invective and hatred from some on the independence side, but he is not a bad man and is motivated by many good things. Many of the values he wants contemporary Scotland to champion are positive, and just because he is against independence does not negate them.

Brown’s outline of what he calls “middle Scotland” – the floating voters who don’t buy the certainties of Yes and No and who are more inclined to trust the Scottish Government and Westminster, vote SNP in significant numbers and are open to persuasion on independence and the Union – has much to commend it.

Where Gordon Brown falls short, leaving aside self-reflection on the mistakes of 13 years in office, is an understanding of independence beyond caricature. The constitutional question has been centre stage for all of Brown’s adult life and despite this he has wilfully refused to understand the many arguments for independence, dressing them up as about “binary debate” and “putting Scottish identity above British identity”.

That frankly is not good enough for Brown to be listened to more widely, and to come up with solutions for tomorrow’s Scotland that are respected and included. That is a genuine shame as Brown has many admirable qualities but it is clear that it will fall to the next generation of Scottish pro-Union politicians to come up with answers and to better understand independence.