There's a telling line in this story from the Mail which (if true!) gets to the heart of Gordon Brown's sense of himself. Apparently he was unhappy with the line of questioning being pursued by a recent TV interviewer, leading Brown to complain, off-camera, that "You are impugning my integrity." Now if ever a complaint reeked of the Manse, this is it.
Not that the Prime Minister is alone in parading his own estimation of his integrity as though it deflected not only criticism but, more implausibly still, the very grounds upon which such criticism might be offered; the late John Smith could take such a view himself. Smith was fond of arguing that the Scots are "a more moral people" than the English and, deep down, I'd be (very) surprised if Gordon Brown didn't secretly agree.
The Prime Minister enjoys reminding us that he's a Son of the Manse whose "values" still owe much to the Kirk and whose much-vaunted "moral compass" was calibrated at an early age, largely through the example of his minister father and the Church of Scotland. Who, pray, could be against any of that?
Plenty of folk in Scotland, that's who. Whatever the Kirk's (very real) achievements and notwithstanding its importance as the defining, single most vital institution in Scottish life for hundreds of years, there's something to the criticisms that the Kirk was also a limiting, stifling influence upon Scottish lives. That is, for all its public respectability and for all its good works and contributions to social cohesion, it could also be a sanctimonious, joyless church that encouraged its congregation to be suspicious of anything new or different. If there's a Scottish Cringe, the Kirk must bear some responsibility for it. Though its hold on Scottish life was weakening by the time Brown was a boy, the Kirk's certainty of its own righteousness and wisdom seems to have seeped deep into Brown's marrow.
And like the Kirk, the Prime Minister views individual action with a measure of suspicion. Better by far for the congregation to be shepherded to righteousness than to risk uncertainty by trusting people. No, in the end, they are all children requiring guidance. Authority and control are needed, otherwise heaven knows what they'll do. Nothing good, certainly. This can be a sadly narrow view of life and one that risks accumulating great stockpiles of cant and humbug too.
Hence, Brown's attitude towards other government departments when he was Chancellor. Hence too the increasing complexity of the tax code as Reverend Brown dispenses tax credits and allowances to those congregants whom he decides have deserved them. And there's a sense too in which Team Brown's tribalism owes something to this: We are Good People; We are Doing This; Because We are Good People, This Must Be Good.
There are times when one can read Burns and, without too much imagination, hear Gordon's voice. Thus, from Holy Willie's Prayer:
When from my mither's womb I fell,Thou might hae plung'd me deep in hell,To gnash my gums, and weep and wail,In burnin lakes,Where damned devils roar and yell,Chain'd to their stakes.
Yet I am here a chosen sample,
O ye wha are sae guid yoursel',Sae pious and sae holy,Ye've nought to do but mark and tellYour neibours' fauts and folly!Whase life is like a weel-gaun mill,Supplied wi' store o' water;The heaped happer's ebbing still,An' still the clap plays clatter.
Hear me, ye venerable core,
Ye see your state wi' theirs compared,