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GORDON Brown has warned the next general election could pit Scotland against the rest of the UK – with Boris Johnson potentially claiming the rise of the SNP is “preventing Britain moving forward”.
The former prime minister raised the alarm as he insisted 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 Mr Brown’s think tank, Our Scottish Future, identified key commonalities between the priorities of Scotland, England and Wales.
The ex-Labour politician warned that the UK Government framing an ”us versus them” battle between the SNP and the Tories “plays into the hand of Nicola Sturgeon”.
He said: “There is a danger that the next general election in Britain will be fought as a battle between a Conservative party that makes the future of the Union an issue and plays an English card and says that it’s Scottish nationalism that’s preventing Britain moving forward and then claims that Labour will go into a pact with the SNP, which of course is a lie.
“Then you have an election fought on Scotland versus England or Scotland versus Britain and that’s a real possibility.”
Mr Brown’s study found that Scots want cooperation between parties and governments on a whole host of issues including tackling poverty and economic recovery.
He said: “Nicola Sturgeon this week, at her party conference, said she wanted ‘cooperation not confrontation’.
“What was really surprising was that while the Scottish people want cooperation on economic recovery, reduced poverty, NHS, crime and terrorism, better education, the only area that she singled out for cooperation, when she talked about it, it was cooperation to make possible independence faster because of the cooperation of England with Scotland – if you like, cooperation to end cooperation.”
Mr Brown added: “That’s not where the Scottish people are.
“They want cooperation on jobs, poverty, social care, health service and everything else.”
The former prime minister said he hoped the importance of cooperation will “come to the forefront”.
He added: “We’ve lost sense of the fact that to do certain things, to have a green revolution to deal with climate change or even to deal with vaccination, to deal with economic regeneration, you’ve got to have cooperation between Scotland and England.”
Mr Brown also criticised “muscular unionism” from the Prime Minister, pointing to the divisive Internal Market Act and shared prosperity fund which allowed Westminster to retain some post-Brexit powers – policies labelled a “power grab” by the SNP.
He said: “That’s got no support, in my view, in Scotland – other than the very diehard Conservatives who will just go along with Boris Johnson whatever he says. You don’t want muscular unionism, nor do you want the SNP stand-off.“What you want is to offer the hand of cooperation and see whether you can make a success of it – as we did, in fact, over vaccination, over necessity and to make cooperation one of the guiding principles of how you move forward.”
The Our Scottish Future study spoke to 2,000 people in England, 1,000 in Scotland and 500 in Wales, revealing 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.
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.
Mr 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 – stressing there is alignment.
He said: “What we are basically seeing, as this poll shows, is that in terms of values and in terms of choice of priorities, Scotland, England and Wales are moving closer together not further apart.
“It’s something in the politics that is actually forcing people apart – it’s not that people have such a huge divergence in values and priorities.”