For many English, Scotsman Brown is an unlikely hero.
Academic and awkward in front of the camera, he was ranked Britain's
most unpopular prime minister in half a century before he led the
Labour party to its worst electoral defeat in a generation in 2010.
But in September this year, after the British political elite
encountered a sudden surge in Scottish separatist support, it was
63-year-old Brown who seized the initiative to try to pull wavering
Scots back behind the United Kingdom.
As Prime Minister David Cameron pondered his options in London and
sterling fell after a poll showed separatists were on course to win
independence, Brown took action.
With just days left before the Sept. 18 referendum he appeared to be
making British policy by announcing that laws granting further
devolution to the Scottish parliament would be drafted by the time
Scots celebrate the birthday of their most revered poet, Robert
Burns, on January 25.
Cameron had little choice but to back him.
Then, on a grueling series of speeches from the Highlands to
Scotland's biggest cities, Brown invoked the heroes of the Scottish
Labour movement and warned of the risks from separatism to
taxpayer-funded health and welfare systems - appealing to Scottish
Labour voters to shun independence.
"We created a United Kingdom minimum wage, a United Kingdom public
health service, a United Kingdom welfare state," Brown told a packed
meeting of Labour supporters in the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow,
Scotland's biggest city.
"What we progressives have created over the last century, let no
nationalist split asunder," the Scot - widely respected by his
countrymen as the son of a Presbyterian preacher - thundered, fists
clenched, to applause and cheers.
In dozens of passionate speeches laced with anecdotes about
everything from Scottish soccer to ancient Greek democracy, Brown
has raised what even the fervently anti-socialist Daily Mail has
described as "the battle cry to save Britain."
Nationalists such as Nicola Sturgeon, deputy leader of the Scottish
National Party, say that despite his oratory Brown failed to
implement his ideas on social justice while in office first as
Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister.
Nonetheless, nationalist leader Alex Salmond has said that should
the separatist 'Yes' campaign win, he would seek to draw on Brown's
experience for 'Team Scotland'.
CHANGING THE TONE
As Reuters reported in June, Brown first joined the unionist
campaign after raising concern that its negative tone was alienating
Damian McBride, Brown's former spokesman who remains close to the
former premier, said the serious mistake was not making a positive
case to Scots about remaining part of the UK.
"(Brown) was making phone calls eight, nine months ago warning that
this would be much, much tighter than anyone thought," McBride told
Supported by Britain's three main political parties, the 'Better
Together' message has veered from warnings over the perils of
secession to emotional appeals for unity.
"Countries can be lost by mistake," Brown told reporters over lunch
in London's Westminster parliament in early June.
"Don't allow it to become British politicians versus Scotland, which
is how too easily this has been caricatured, because that simply
plays into the hands of the nationalists. That's a losing ticket."
When Brown made the comments, all opinion polls were showing the
unionists well ahead of nationalists but most surveys this month
have shown the vote is now too close to call after a major swing to
the independence campaign.
The polls offer only a partial picture but the fate of the United
Kingdom may be decided by some half a million as yet undecided
voters in the industrial towns of Scotland where few politicians
rival Brown's influence.
Many of the undecideds are Labour supporters who dislike being
lectured by Conservatives such as Cameron, whose party has just one
of Scotland's 59 seats in the London parliament.
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"Brown was drafted in to reassure Labour Scotland that voting No is
good and they shouldn't feel bad about it. He is there to get
wavering Labour voters back on the side of the union," said David
Torrance, biographer of Alex Salmond.
Cameron's job is on the line if he loses Scotland but he has
conceded that his privileged English background and center-right
politics mean he isn't the best person to win over Scots.
left the Better Together campaign largely in the hands of opposition
Labour, winner of 41 Scottish seats in 2010 and the only party with
the local organization and support capable of checking the
secessionist Scottish National Party.
They also have Gordon Brown, the only British politician that one
Scottish nationalist source said Salmond fears.
"The No lot are worried, and the campaign has been lackluster. Yes
have been much better. But Brown was very impressive," John
Campbell, from Ayrshire in south-west Scotland, said after Brown's
speech in Glasgow.
Brown studied at the University of Edinburgh and gained a PhD on the
Labour Party's role in driving political change in Scotland. He has
represented the constituency of Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in
southeast Scotland since 1983 when he shared a parliament office
with another new Labour lawmaker, Tony Blair.
Their relationship dominated British politics as Brown, finance
minister for a decade, coveted and eventually got Blair's job as
prime minister in 2007.
In many parts of the United Kingdom, Brown is a divisive figure.
Admirers say he steered Britain through the global financial crisis,
but his critics say he mismanaged the economy and ran up record
Brown refused an interview citing the intensity of the campaign but
Ed Miliband, who once served as one of Brown's advisers and
succeeded him as Labour party leader, lauded Brown for showing the
'heart of a lion' in the unionist campaign.
Brown says Scotland's identity and rights are best secured by being
part of a union which he says must change radically if it is to
Disclosing London's timetable for granting more powers to Scotland,
he told Labour supporters in Midlothian, south of Edinburgh: "These
proposals are radical. They change not just Scotland but they change
Certainly, some Scots are still to be persuaded by him.
"They became desperate when they sent a rarely seen hardly heard
Labour backbencher," Graeme Murdoch, 68, said at a Yes rally in
Edinburgh, in reference to Brown. "The only reason he's here is
because everyone else has failed."
But in London, some are now wondering whether - should he help pull
it off - a Scottish 'No' vote could be political redemption for the
man who hankered after big international jobs like heading the IMF
but could not seal a nomination.
"This may change views of him in Westminster," McBride said. "And it
may - miracles may happen - garner some respect for him with David
Cameron and George Osborne about the way he has dealt with this ...
and proved some strategic mastery in the process."
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Janet McBride and Sophie
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