Alex Massie

Gordon’s Folly Compounds Wendy’s

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Silly me for daring to presume anything competent could emerge from Downing Street these days. And, yes, it was reckless to suppose that the Prime Minister might acknowledge that the question of Labour support for a referendum should be decided by the Labour leadership in Scotland. That, of course, would be the sensible thing. But here's how the BBC Brian Taylor describes the days developments:

So where's your referendum now? At Prime Minister's Questions, Gordon Brown offered an entirely different interpretation of the scenario offered by Wendy Alexander.

According to Mr Brown, Ms Alexander had not demanded an immediate referendum on Scottish independence.

"That", he opined in response to David Cameron, "is not what she said."

Rather she intended to review matters after - and only after - the cross-party Calman Commission has produced its ideas for the revamp of devolved powers.

So let me get this straight. When Ms Alexander deployed an unaccustomed demotic touch by declaring "bring it on", she was actually saying that this was an issue which should await the outcome of an extensive and lengthy review.

Mr Cameron said the Prime Minister was "losing touch with reality". Alternatively, one might suggest that he has apparently lost patience with Ms Alexander.

Far from endorsing her standpoint, he went out of his way to dilute it.

Well, indeed so. But this is more stupidity from Brown. he does not seem to appreciate that he risks turning Scottish Labour into a 21st century version of the 1980s and 90s Conservative party. With the SNP in power it is more important than ever that the other political parties - ie, the Conservatives as well as Labour - are seen as fully-fledged Scottish organisations and not merely branch offices of HQ in London. That perception helped kill the Tories in Scotland and it will damage Labour too if wee Wendy is seen to be humiliated by the Velcro Prime Minister.

Perhaps Brown doesn't realise that things have changed. Scotland is semi-detached from the UK; that requires that its politics be quasi-independent too. Controlling matters from London is a way to boost the nationalists, not defeat them. The public retains an open mind on independence, but I doubt it wants to see our domestic politicians taking orders from London. On the contrary, there's a widespread, if perhaps still shallow, consensus that "standing up for Scotland" (however you want to define that concept) is what the public wants, not kow-towing to London bosses.

Then again, given his troubles in England, you can understand that Scotland is the very last thing Gordon Brown wants to talk about.

UPDATE: James forsyth thinks that, hang it all, Brown might as well go for a referendum.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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