THE late, great Tom Nairn christened our former PM Gordon Brown “the bard of Britishness”.

Last week Mr Brown lived up to Nairn’s perfect sobriquet by launching a new public campaign to “reform” the British constitution and so prevent the UK from falling apart.

Of course, our Gordon has been saving the UK for some time, not least with his notorious vow, uttered just minutes before the 2014 referendum, that a No vote would lead to de facto federalism. It didn’t. Gordon’s latest initiative will fair no better, not least because Keir Starmer will ignore it.

However, I feel it would be wrong for supporters of independence to blindly ignore Brown’s latest offering, the putative Alliance for Radical Democratic Change. It deserves a measured response not least because he mobilised a lot of Labour heavy hitters to come to Edinburgh to support him.

These included the respected Labour First Minister in Wales, Mark Drakeford; the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham (surely a future leadership contender); and not forgetting Anas Sarwar, a man not noted heretofore for uttering anything profound on the subject of devolution.

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Let’s give Brown and his fellow “radical democrats” the benefit of the doubt. After all, much of Brown’s reformist fire was directed not at the SNP but implicitly at his own leader.

In true wobbly Starmer fashion, the latter first recruited Brown to prepare a grandiose 150-page prospectus on updating the institutions of British democracy – which included a proposal to abolish the ridiculous anachronism of the House of Lords.

But once Brown had delivered this report, and so provided Starmer with a veneer of radicalism to cover his left flank, the Labour leader promptly binned the whole project. If the status quo delivers 20 extra seats in Scotland at the general election, calculates Sir Keir, then why rock any constitutional boats?

Brown is clearly miffed. Hence the emergence of his new, personal initiative – though quite where his campaign goes from now is hard to see. I doubt if the Bard of Britishness is up for a faction fight at the next Labour Party conference. That said, Brown is at least setting the pace on the liberal left on constitutional reform. So let’s engage.

The central problem I have with Brown’s approach is that he is incapable of debating openly with his intellectual opponents, particularly on the nationalist side of the equation. Instead, he treats us as intellectual pariahs not worthy of actual direct discussion.

The independence movement in Scotland has never been short of serious theoretical firepower, including Tom Nairn himself or the late Stephen Maxwell. But Brown is determined – out of cussedness or frit – not to respect this. Instead, he spends his time attacking straw men (and women) of his own invention. This takes us precisely nowhere.

Let me give you an example from an article that Brown published last week. In it, he lambasts the SNP for its policy of “total separation”.

Instead, Brown claims that the people of these islands share a lot of common values. His conclusion – as opposed to Scottish or Welsh independence – is that “we need to achieve a better balance” between all-island cooperation and local autonomy, by eschewing Westminster over-centralisation. Who could disagree?

Except, of course, that in 2014 the SNP was not asking for “total separation” or anything like it. The proposal put forward by Alex Salmond was altogether more sophisticated than running up the Saltire and running away. First, there would have been a common head of state.

(Note that Brown, in all his talk of constitutional reform, always stays well clear of the monarchy.)

Next, there would have been a common defence pact, including a shared air defence system. Notoriously, Salmond wanted to keep a common monetary system and free trade with England, with the Bank of England continuing to set interest rates. In effect, this was a proposal for a British confederation in everything but name, not “separation”.

Not only did the Unionists – Gordon Brown to the fore – oppose this plan, they went out of their way to sabotage any prospect of post-independence co-operation between Scotland and England.

We were told indy Scotland would be kicked out of Nato and the EU, with English connivance. We were warned there would be no monetary union or free trade. So much for “achieving a better balance” in co-operation between the communities of the British Isles.

Because, you see, Gordon Brown only contemplates constitutional reform on his own terms. He not only refuses to debate with others in a meaningful way, but he also dismisses any proffered alternatives.

There is a reason for Brown’s unwillingness to engage. For it is the Labour Party as an institution that has proven to be the gatekeeper of British constitutional conservatism over the decades.

There can be no reckoning with the conservative, centralist British state without a critique of Labourism itself – and this Brown cannot countenance any more than can Starmer, Sarwar or even Jeremy Corbyn.

Had Labour delivered a credible devolution in the 1970s, the rise of the Scottish independence movement might have been headed off.

But it was Labour MPs who sabotaged that possibility because they were more concerned with keeping their petty privileges. And three seconds after the 2014 referendum result, Scottish Labour was rowing back on “the vow” by trying to block (unsuccessfully) the transfer of income tax powers to Holyrood.

Labourism emerged at the start of the 20th century as a reformist mechanism for heading off working-class revolt. Thereafter Labour traded genuine radicalism for the pathetic right to be accepted within the archaic and oligarchic British state. A state which guards the interests of the big landowners (including the Windsors), City of London spivs and the great imperial trading and mining trusts.

Never once did a Labour government contemplate introducing proportional representation, which would have broken the power of the reactionary Tory Party forever. Brown’s latest constitutional proposals are equally silent on PR.

Never once did Labour seriously contemplate abolishing the unelected House of Lords and its guardianship of privilege. Brown’s proposal to do so in the very next parliament (replacing it with an elected chamber of the nations and regions) is nowhere on Starmer’s manifesto agenda.

Labourism always plays it safe. Leaders like Foot or Corbyn who – however marginally – threaten the status quo are quickly defenestrated by their MPs.

The trades unions, who sign the cheques, have also acted as a conservative break, fearful of Tory retribution.

True, as Labour politicians like Starmer increasingly refuse to dismantle Tory anti-union legislation, the unions are taking their distance. But that won’t stop a Starmer administration being the most right-wing Labour government in history. That signals a death warrant for Brown’s radical democratic agenda.

Nevertheless, I think we should not let the Bard of Britishness off his intellectual hook. Answer these questions, Gordon.

Why no proportional representation when it is the only way of breaking the constitutional stranglehold imposed from Westminster? Why no discussion of the future role of the monarchy? Why no constitutional right to hold periodic votes, in Scotland and Wales, on UK membership? Why misrepresent the very folk who are as interested in radical democratic reform as you claim to be?