Gordon Brown: the man who will save the Union?

The UK press is praising the former Labour Prime Minister for his 11th-hour intervention, suggesting he should have had a more significant role in the Better Together campaign.

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The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an 11th-hour intervention in the Scottish independence debate yesterday. He took charge of a timetable for devolving further powers to Scotland.

All three main pro-Union parties agree with this plan. The leader of Scottish Labour, Johann Lamont, is expected to back Brown’s plan today. Ed Miliband has already championed Brown’s actions, saying, “I make this commitment as Leader of the Labour Party: if we win the general election, we will move with utmost speed in our first Queen's Speech to enact this legislation.” David Cameron, eschewing a high-profile role in the campaign, will also support his predecessor’s proposal later this week.

My colleague George Eaton reported and analysed Brown’s speech last night, which he gave in Midlothian. It was a convincing announcement, drawing on history, and the appeal of the Labour party in Scotland, and delivered by an impassioned – and senior – Scot. Here’s an extract:

Labour since Keir Hardie has been the Party of Home Rule for Scotland within the United Kingdom so the plan for a stronger Scottish Parliament we seek agreement on is for nothing else than a modern form of Scottish Home Rule within the United Kingdom, published by St Andrews Day on 30 November, with the draft laws around 25 January – interestingly enough by Burns Night.

As well as giving a good speech, Brown acted very rapidly, responding to polling at the weekend putting the Yes campaign ahead for the first time. Although the three main Westminster parties had all agreed to a plan to timetable extra powers for Scotland, it is thought the former PM dived in to dictate the terms without discussing it with Cameron beforehand.

His dramatic intervention has gone down very well in the British press. Images of Brown – a much-maligned PM when in office in Labour’s dying days ­– as a hero and saviour dominate the news agenda. The Times describes him as being “parachuted in” to rescue Better Together. The Guardian calls him “Westminster's best hope for a referendum No vote”. The Daily Mail describes his speech as “the battle cry to save Britain”. Even the Mail’s sketch writer Quentin Letts conceded, “Growly Gordon was actually rather good. . .”

Not only was Brown filling in the role that would usually be played by the Prime Minister, but he was also filling the Better Together head Alistair Darling’s shoes. This reveals a further mistake from the Unionists; giving the former PM a relative backseat in the campaign for a No vote until now. As George points out in his piece, “The former PM is one of the few Unionist politicians that even Alex Salmond concedes poses a threat to the nationalists.”

The failure to offer a “devo-max” option on the ballot paper, and the “too little, too late” nature of the latest devolution promises are big mistakes on the pro-Union side. Overlooking the positive effect of deploying Gordon Brown until now is another one to add to the list.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.