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Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has launched a new campaign to keep the Union together by appealing to the voters of “Middle Scotland”. Mr Brown said his two-year-old thinktank “Our Scottish Future” was being converted into a “campaigning movement”. He said it would put “the positive, progressive and patriotic case for Scotland in Britain”, and urged people to join it.
The group will make the case for a “reformed” UK, Mr Brown said, and target the 40 percent of Scots who he believes are not strongly committed to either the Union or independence.
Mr Brown’s comments come in the wake of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon leading the SNP to a landslide fourth term in office on a manifesto pledge to hold another independence referendum.
It is not a surprise the former Prime Minister would intervene in the debate.
Mr Brown played a prominent role in the lead-up to, and the aftermath of, the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, campaigning for Scotland to stay in the UK.
For example, in a keynote speech in Fife, the former Prime Minister brilliantly shed light on the implications of independence for the rest of the UK.
He argued that England, Wales and Northern Ireland would benefit, as independence would see them get the lion’s share of the pension fund.
He claimed pensions were the third of Alex Salmond’s “real” problems after former Chancellor George Osborne ruled out a formal deal to share the pound and ex-European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said it would have been “difficult, if not impossible” for a separate Scotland to join the EU.
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Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
The Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence during the 2014 referendum promised that workers’ state pension entitlements would have been honoured and raised the prospect of having a lower retirement age than the UK.
However, Mr Osborne’s decision to rule out a currency union raised questions about this pledge, particularly regarding what currency Scots’ state pensions would have been calculated and paid in.
Launching a campaign to “keep our British pensions”, Mr Brown said: “They [the separatists] haven’t answered the basic problem – you have paid into your pension, into the UK Exchequer all your lives, you’ve paid your national insurance, you’ve paid your taxes so that you have a right to a pension.
“You are expecting, quite rightly, that you will get a British pension – but if there is independence, the British pension stops, the national insurance fund that you’re paying into is broken up.
“There will be a separate Scottish national insurance fund, and the rest of the UK will have the lion’s share.”
Mr Brown also argued that the SNP‘s estimates for oil revenues – which would have helped fund pensions under independence – were at odds with private documents leaked to the media.
He added: “They didn’t expect to get £6.9billion from oil, they only expect to get £4billion … far from having all these billions of resources, the SNP are exaggerating all the time.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
“That difference of over two million is the equivalent of half the amount of money spent on everybody’s pension in Scotland.
“If that money is not there, how are pensions going to be afforded?”
He said the current system worked thanks to the pooling of risks and resources across the UK.
He explained: “We pay our national insurance and we pay our taxes so that we can pay for our pensions later. We have more needs (in Scotland) and more pensioners, therefore we get more.
“The SNP know that they have got a problem … the rising demand for pensions, set against the money that they have, means there is greater volatility in social security spending.”
Gregg McClymont, the former Labour pension spokesman, also said at the time: “Withdraw Scotland from the UK and Scots are withdrawn from the UK pensions system.
“The UK state pension would cease to exist in Scotland.
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“The security and certainty of the UK’s pension promise would disappear overnight for Scottish pensioners and for the rest of us who have been paying into the system.”
However, Nicola Sturgeon, who at the time was Deputy First Minister, rebutted: “The last person anyone in Scotland will take lessons from when it comes to pensions is Gordon Brown – the man who destroyed final-salary pension schemes with his £100billion raid, and insulted our older folk with a miserly 75p increase in the state pension.
“Mr Brown’s track record means that he lacks all credibility on this subject, so it is little wonder that his speech bears little relationship with reality.”
The Scottish Government’s White Paper in 2014 promised to pay state pensions “on time and in full” after independence, but did not stipulate how this would be administered or funded.
It also pledged to review the UK Government’s decision to increase the state retirement age to 67 between 2026 and 2028, stating this may not be necessary thanks to lower life expectancy in Scotland.
But the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS) published a report stating the document had failed to answer a series of key questions about pensions.
Despite the SNP’ claims to the contrary, the institute said funding the state pension in a separate Scotland would have been “more of a challenge” because there would have been fewer taxpayers for each old age pensioner.
In the last few years, Ms Sturgeon has not made any comments on whether Scots will be able to retain their pensions in case of independence.