Gordon Brown: UK moving closer together, not further apart

Former prime minister speaks out after study identifies key commonalities between the priorities of Scotland, England and Wales.

Gordon Brown: UK moving closer together, not further apart Ken Jack via Getty Images
Gordon Brown says the nations of the UK are 'moving closer together, not further apart'.

Former prime minister Gordon Brown has said the nations of the UK are “moving closer together, not further apart” after a new poll suggested an alignment in priorities.

The study, conducted by Stack Strategy for Brown’s think tank Our Scottish Future, identified key commonalities between the priorities of Scotland, England and Wales.

After speaking to 2000 people in England, 1000 in Scotland and 500 in Wales, the pollster found each nation identified making the NHS the best healthcare system in the world as their top priority.

Some 47% of respondents in Wales, 42% in Scotland and 41% in England identified the NHS as their number one issue.

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A dignified retirement for older people, tackling climate change and fighting inequality were all also high on the list of priorities.

The poll also found that just 20% of Scottish respondents identified referendums on independence north of the border or in Wales as a top priority. Just 9% of Welsh respondents concurred.

Brown said the findings would make it harder for those in support of independence for either country to argue that there are significant differences from other parts of the UK.

“Indeed, it contradicts their central argument for the break-up of Britain: that we cannot be Scottish and British or Welsh and British at the same time,” he said in the New Statesman on Thursday.

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“Most of us can feel comfortably at home with plural identities and found no difficulty waving the flags of St Andrew, St George’s and St David in June in support of Scottish, English and Welsh teams and then, come August, transitioning smoothly and naturally to supporting the Union Jack-waving GB Olympics and Paralympics teams.”

Brown went on to say the “muscular unionism” of the Prime Minister was playing into the hands of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

“Describing the UK as ‘one nation’, he is abandoning the bigger idea – and better reality – that we are a ‘family of nations’,” he wrote.

“He wants to badge new Scottish roads and bridges as British as if hoisting more Union Jacks will make people decide they are only British and not also Scottish or Welsh.

“Once the champion of more powers for London, he now sees devolution outside London as ‘a disaster’ and – ironically for an avowedly small-state Conservative Party – its Internal Market Act and Shared Prosperity Fund override devolution in favour of bolstering a centralised unitary state run out of London SW1.”

Most respondents in each of the nations identified diversity, freedom, tolerance and equality as important to them.

“When it comes to values, there is across England, Scotland and Wales similar levels of support for equality and tolerance, and for diversity, with the same levels of support for giving priority to the NHS, good jobs and climate change,” the former prime minister said.

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“In their values and choice of priorities, Scotland and England and Wales are moving closer together, not further apart.”