By GA Ponsonby
The Vow has been delivered. That was the message from the Unionist media within minutes of the fiscal deal between the Scottish and UK Governments having been confirmed.
Amongst those pushing this message was BBC Scotland presenter Gary Robertson. Interviewing John Swinney the day after the Finance Secretary concluded the Fiscal Framework talks, Robertson clashed with the nationalist MSP.
On the issue of Gordon Brown and the former Labour leader’s pre-referendum pledge of near federalism and Home Rule, Robertson said: “You wouldn’t want to mislead people, that wasn’t in the vow was it?”
The BBC presenter added: “But we don’t want to mislead people because Gordon Brown, you’re right, did talk about near-federalism but the reality is Gordon Brown was not a signatory to the vow …”
Robertson’s attempt to airbrush Gordon Brown’s role in the creation of ‘The Vow’ out of the referendum campaign, and thereby accuse Swinney of misleading listeners, created a mini-storm on social media. I myself posted an image of a BBC article published two days before the referendum which specifically acknowledged Brown as being the catalyst of the vow.
Robertson responded with the following tweet:
The 'Vow Delivered' claim even made it into some BBC Scotland news bulletins as the recording below demonstrates.
The Daily Record is the newspaper which published 'The Vow'. The Vow defined nothing in terms of more powers, save for a nebulous promise that they would be ‘extensive’. There was of course no need for them to be defined, for they had already been defined by Gordon Brown.
Gordon Brown’s pre-referendum Home Rule/Federalism pledge hovers like a spectre over Scottish Unionism. It’s a promise that was never going to be delivered and one that will never be pursued. Hitherto, the Scottish media’s method of dealing with it has been to ignore it. To this day Brown has never been pursued over the promise and never asked who sanctioned it.
Gary Robertson isn't the first to deny Brown's pledges underpinned 'The Vow'. David Mundell even tried to claim Brown never in fact pledged Home Rule.
Gordon Brown was heralded as the saviour of the Union immediately after the referendum. Now though the saviour has been denied. So what's the truth?
Where it all began
Cast your mind back to the week before the independence referendum. On September 7th 2014 a poll for Yougov was released which put the Yes campaign ahead by 51% to 49%. The poll sparked the biggest propaganda effort ever seen in peacetime UK. At the centre of the propaganda was the BBC.
Within 24 hours of the Yes campaign taking the lead in the polls, a pro-Union speech from former Labour party leader Gordon Brown was broadcast live by the BBC into homes throughout Scotland. TV sets and radios were relaying apparent pledges of Home Rule from the former Labour leader.
In his speech, the Kirkcaldy MP made a series of pledges to the Scottish people. Two key guarantees were made. That legislation for new powers would be drafted within a timetable set out by Brown himself and that these new powers would amount to Home Rule. Brown's pledges were broadcast unchallenged. His speech was, in essence, a state broadcast to the nation.
Key sections of Brown's speech were repeated at regular intervals on BBC news bulletins. Few seemed to question why the BBC was treating a backbench Labour MP as though he was the nation's elected leader. Fewer still sought to determine if the pledges Brown was making had been agreed by the leaders of the three UK parties.
The BBC reported that the three main UK parties were expected to back Brown’s proposals later that week.
The day after Brown's unchallenged pledges were broadcast live by the BBC, a now notorious interview took place. The pre-recorded interview on Reporting Scotland featured Mr Brown's party colleague Alistair Darling who led the pro-Union Better Together campaign. Interviewing Mr Darling was long time Reporting Scotland presenter Jackie Bird.
The interview was unremarkable until Bird decided to introduce a term which was, and still is, critical to the constitutional debate. The term was Devo Max.
The widely accepted definition of Devo Max is the return to Scotland of all powers with the exception of Foreign Affairs and Defence. Nine days after Brown's notorious speech, the entire Scottish media joined the act of deceit.
No one is absolutely sure who was behind 'The Vow'. What we do know is that two days before the independence referendum the leaders of the three Unionist parties appeared together on the front page of the Daily Record newspaper in an apparent joint declaration to the Scottish people.
The mock document on the front page of the Daily Record bore the signatures of Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
The document pledged "extensive new powers" for the Scottish Parliament which would be set out by "the timetable agreed".
The Vow took on a life of its own. It wasn't long before the entire Scottish media were portraying the 'document' as a meaningful pledge of more powers and a significant contribution to the independence debate.
The BBC headlined the newspaper front page. BBC News bulletins and reports repeated the claims contained in the Daily Record.
In what was a clear attempt to persuade voters that the pledges contained in 'The Vow', and those made by Gordon Brown were one and the same, the BBC reported:
'The pledges were first outlined by the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, on Monday.'
The Monday speech had been yet another from the former Prime Minister who had made several in the nine days since his 'Home Rule' speech. In the eyes of the media and the public, ‘The Vow’ was the political culmination of Brown’s week long efforts.
Underlining this was the BBC’s political correspondent Norman Smith, who told viewers that Brown had been the “driving force” behind ‘The Vow’. Smith also insisted that Devo-Max was now being offered by all three UK parties.
The Vow was published on September 16th, just two days before the independence referendum. That it broke electoral law, which forbade new offers being made to the electorate during this period, was never considered an issue by a media intent on saving the Union.
On September 18th 2014, the Yes campaign lost the referendum by 55% to 45%.
Two days after the result, Gordon Brown made another speech in which he very specifically made reference to his own ‘Home Rule’ pledge from two weeks earlier.
"… And I want to give people in Scotland an assurance that when they were told two weeks ago that there would be delivery after decision day, that delivery has started and will continue ..."
"... And the powers in my view are extensive enough for people who want Home Rule within the United Kingdom for Scotland…"
Brown himself believed that his 'Home Rule' pledge underpinned 'The Vow'.
Where we are now
On Tuesday Nicola Sturgeon announced that agreement had been reached with the UK Government on the Fiscal Framework. This agreement ensures new powers contained in the Scotland Bill will now come to Holyrood. These new powers fall well short of Gordon Brown’s pledge of Home Rule, or ‘near federalism’.
The Vow was, in truth, a confidence trick hatched by a struggling pro-Union newspaper. There never was any document signed by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. The signatures that appeared on the front page of the Daily Record were digital images sent to the paper to be positioned on its front page which was designed to look like parchment.
The front page was the final flourish of a week-long propaganda campaign led by Gordon Brown and promoted by the apparatus of the British Broadcasting Corporation. To deny 'The Vow' was based on the pledges made by Gordon Brown is to deny reality. As can be seen above, Brown boasted that he, along with the three UK party leaders, were signatories of the Commons' resolution which hastily followed the referendum.
When Gary Robertson taunted John Swinney by suggesting the vow had been delivered, he invited the Finance Secretary to highlight Gordon Brown’s promise of Home Rule. Swinney’s response to the ‘devil’s advocate’ style gambit should have ended that particular issue, and the interview moved on.
But it didn’t. Not content with his initial taunt, Gary Robertson then sought to implicitly accuse Swinney of misleading the public - a very serious charge.
The irony of course is that the public were indeed misled, but not by John Swinney. They were misled in the final days of the referendum by a corrupt pro-Union media machine which promoted promises from a failed politician who had no authority to deliver anything.
Brown dominated the BBC's airwaves in the final week. Here’s what the corporation was broadcasting live the day before the independence referendum. Few people will even recall that the Yes campaign was virtually wiped from our TV screens during those final days.
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