Academics Together: Gordon Brown makes the case for a United Kingdom

In Edinburgh, Gordon Brown, David Steel, Sir Paul Nurse and other notable academics made the case for Scotland staying within the UK.

Despite having retreated from the spotlight of politics back in 2010 after Labour lost the election with him at the helm, the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP, has not been afraid to fight for the union. He recently released a book entitled ‘My Scotland, Our Britain’ arguing for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom.

However, the former Labour leader’s most recent intervention came on Saturday 5th July, at an event led by ‘Academics Together’, which I had the pleasure of attending. He was joined by the former Liberal leader Baron David Steel of Aikwood, Dr Frances Dow CBE, Professor Hugh Pennington CBE and scientist Sir Paul Nurse, winner of the Nobel Prize.

The panel put forward their reasons for remaining in the union, most notably the arguments about the benefits of shared research, particularly on medicine and life sciences. The figure that Scotland makes up 8.4% of the UK’s population, but received 13.1% of UK Research Council grants kept cropping with the argument that independence would put this at risk.

This comes as the President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, who was at the event and the Presidents of the British Academy and the Academy of Medical Sciences warned, in a letter to a national paper, that independence would be detrimental to scientific and medical research across the UK.

Additionally, Gordon Brown stressed the idea that being part of the UK allowed all constituent nations to ‘pool and share’ their resources and ‘spread the risk’, as well as emphasising the idea of interdependence and that Scotland is reliant on the UK as 70% of Scotland’s exports are to the rest of the United Kingdom.

One audience member asked Gordon Brown what he thought of the argument that the reasons for Labour’s determination for Scotland to stay in the UK was due to the political advantage Labour gets from Scotland. The Labour party has 40/59 MPs north of the border compared to the Conservatives’ single MP. If Scotland had not participated in the 2010 general election then the Conservatives would have achieved an overall majority.

The former Prime Minister disagreed, arguing that Better Together was a multi-party campaign, with members from all political colours uniting with the common belief that the UK should remain united.

Asked about the risk of Scotland voting ‘No’ but being dragged out of the EU by the rest of the UK in a potential future referendum Brown stated that he believed that in any in/out referendum the UK would vote to remain in the European Union. 

In addition to this, David Steel was asked for his thoughts on the idea of a second chamber to balance the current unicameral Scottish Parliament. Steel, a proponent of Lords reform, said if Scotland voted ‘no’ in September he hoped that there could be a second chamber made up of members elected perhaps by MPs or/and MSPs to balance with Westminster. He also suggested that members representing Scotland in the other chamber could act as a second chamber for Holyrood as well.

Each speaker made different points but all with the same message: the UK is Better Together. All argued that research for science and medicine would be put at risk if Scotland left the United Kingdom and Gordon Brown in particular made the point that Scotland in the UK allows for shared risks and resources, which benefit all.

There are 74 days until the referendum where Scots will be asked ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ The most recent poll shows the Better Together camp in the lead with 54 points compared to 35% for those voting ‘Yes’. ‘Don’t knows’ make up the other 12%. Some polls suggest that the gap is narrowing, whilst others tell a different story; it's all to play for as Scotland's future hangs in the balance.