Gordon Brown isn’t my favourite politician. Nothing personal:  we often shared late-night taxis from the Commons: he was chatty and always paid his part of the fare!

My hostility arose when, as chancellor, he delayed passing EU funds to  Wales.  He also refused to replace the Barnet Formula - which benefits Scotland but not Wales - with a needs-based formula.

As prime minister, he failed to honour an agreement to allocate Plaid Cymru three seats in the House of Lords.  Some argue that Plaid was “sold a pup”: that’s another issue.

Few people deny that Brown understands Scottish politics. He is a fervent unionist – but appreciates how Labour’s failure to accommodate Scotland’s national aspirations led to SNP victories. He fears that Scotland’s 1707 Union with England might now end.

Brown‘s call for an Inquiry into Britain’s constitution, was raised by Scottish Labour peer, George Foulkes at Lords Question Time on Monday.

Tory minister Lord True said the Government have no such plans. Foulkes was angry, accusing them of “burying their heads in the sand like ostriches”.

The minister was reminded that the last Conservative election manifesto promised they would immediately “set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission”.

But Boris Johnson treats such promises like disposable nappies.

I have no love of Royal Commissions: they offer ways of kicking difficult subjects into the long grass.  


The Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution,  established in 1968,  took over five years to conclude their Report, proposing parliaments for Scotland and Wales  - which took another twenty-five years to materialize.

No commission is needed to confirm that Scottish voters gave their Parliament a mandate for an Independence referendum; nor that the Brexit constitutional settlement imposed on Northern Ireland is unworkable.

Wales likewise rejected Conservative policy in the 2019 election; and last month supported parties backing greater autonomy for Wales. Johnson must wake up and address the rapidly disintegrating state he purports to govern.

The fundamental problem - at the heart of Britain’s unwritten constitution - is that  “sovereignty” is absolute. It emanates – not from the people as most democrats might imagine – but from the monarch. Parliament cannot abrogate that power. It cannot even share its sovereignty. That is immutable.

Westminster can lend parliamentary authority to another body by Act of Parliament;  as with devolved powers to Wales and  Scotland.  But there’s an old saying “Power devolved is power retained”.

For Westminster can always take back specific powers – as witnessed following the Brexit settlement; and even dissolve the Welsh and Scottish Parliaments.

A transfer of real sovereignty to Cardiff and Edinburgh might require a confederal approach, where the three nations pool their sovereignty for specific purposes. If this is in Gordon Brown’s mind, it’s worth examining.

Scotland’s government was elected on a manifesto requiring a transfer of sovereignty – which  Welsh Tory peer David Howell, noted on Monday, is fundamentally incompatible with the “central constitutional tenet of Parliament…. of the absolute sovereignty of our Union Parliament here at Westminster”,

With masterful understatement, Lord Howell concluded “There is a problem, is there not?”