EDINBURGH - "He was a shite prime minister, but that was a pretty good speech." The view of one No voter when asked about Gordon Brown's impact on the Scottish referendum campaign.
The margin of victory for Better Together on Friday morning, 55% to 45%, was a collective relief for the unionists. But it was also a personal triumph for the former Labour prime minister, whose thundering eve-of polling day rallying cry was praised as the speech of his life.
Brown, whose last minute intervention in the campaign appeared at times as if he wanted to single-handedly save the United Kingdom, now faces calls to make his return to the front-line of politics permanent.
Edinburgh local Ed Senner, 21, credits the former Labour leader with energising No voters at a time when Westminster was engulfed in a poll-induced panic. "Gordon Brown's speech was absolutely brilliant," he said. "Alex Salmond's got a big voice, waltzing around. Brown's voice was needed. The No campaign had been too quiet."
The third year university student asked why Alistair Darling, a "fricking accountant", was in charge of Better Together not the clunking fist of Brown. It's a sentiment shared by another No voter, who said Darling somehow appeared "un-Scottish" to his friends. Whereas despite spending just as much time in London as Darling, Brown was seen as more authentic.
Brown's concrete impact on the vote is hard to know. But it was his plan to devolve more powers to Scotland that was quickly adopted by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. In fact is it not even clear whether Brown bothered to ask the UK's three current most senior politicians if they agreed with his re-writing of the constitution before he announced it.
During the closing weeks of the referendum fight, Brown, who has largely avoided front-line politics and the press since losing the 2010 general election, stoked speculation that he might be ready for a comeback. The energised MP - and he still is a Westminster MP, despite his infrequent appearances in parliament - said he might even seek election to the Scottish parliament to take on Salmond. That is something Senner, and many more Scots, would welcome. "Maybe Brown will emerge as Scottish Labour leader and come back to the Scottish parliament," he said with hope.
The push for Brown to take a more active roll in domestic politics after his self imposed exile also comes from some of his (English) Labour parliamentary colleagues in Westminster. As Scots went to the polling stations on Thursday, Bassetlaw MP John Mann said that if it was a No vote it was "Gordon Brown who won it". He added: "Next first minister or first prime minister? Certainly the person to lead Scottish Labour."
Brown is a hate figure for most Tory MPs. But even Conservatives are now showering him with praise. Liam Fox, the former defence secretary said today that the ex-Labour leader “played a blinder”. Brown and Cameron are now, apparently, friends.
The publication of a YouGov poll shortly after polls closed signalled that the evening would belong to the No campaign. And as the results came in during the early hours of Friday the Better Together party in Glasgow was able to get underway. But the United Kingdom was only officially saved once the returns from Fife were declared - Brown's hometown.
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