David Cameron puts on his serious face for the no camp

The lights dimmed and screens flickered with images of the saltire, the cross of St George, Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird, the Somme, the Battle of Britain, the Queen and, building to a fevered climax, JK Rowling.

The Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre hadn't seen such passion since One Direction played there in 2011, and the 800 no campaigners who had been bussed in to witness the prime minister's final hurrah before the referendum vote on Thursday were on their feet to give their man a standing ovation before he had said a word.

David Cameron began by using his best serious face, his mouth puckering with intent at the end of each sentence as he issued ever sterner warnings about the possible consequences of a yes vote. There was no effing. No blinding. This was it, here and now. There was no going back. If Scotland chose independence then it was on its own. He would be utterly heartbroken if he was forced to ban Scotland from the British and Irish Lions, the British Olympic team and the British Isles.

At this point his voice caught a little and his chin wobbled with emotion. The country was only called Great Britain "because of the greatness of Scotland," he insisted. England, Wales and Northern Ireland would still be waiting for the Enlightenment without Scotland, he suggested – a sentiment rather undermined by his threats to return the Scots to the dark ages if they got it wrong.

Vote yes and there would be no UK pensions to fall back on, no pound and no passports. Any Scots left stranded in a Magaluf police cell would have to whistle for help from now on as UK embassies would be closed to them. The whole country would be sealed off along Hadrian's wall with machine gun turrets every mile. Worst of all, the Scots would be condemning themselves to watching rubbish football in perpetuity.

None of this was what Cameron wanted. He wanted a united country that shared the values of freedom and justice, a country "where you weren't asked for your credit card details when you were admitted to hospital". In the distance, Jeremy Hunt could be heard ripping up his proposals for the NHS. He wanted a country where Scotland's armed forces weren't just a couple of blokes with a decommissioned submarine. He wanted a country where Scotland and England were one big happy family. Albeit one with a poor relation.

After the sticks came the carrot. A no vote was no longer really a no vote at all. That's what it might have been intended to be when the campaign started off a couple of years ago, but now the pro-independence parties had got such support he was prepared to give them everything he had said he wouldn't. Devo max? That will do nicely. Scotland could have anything it wanted. Money. Love. Sunshine. Anything but independence.

Cameron quivered again, his Landseer vision of Scotland melting before his own eyes, before composing himself for the final rallying cry: "As you stand in the stillness of the polling booth on Thursday," he said, "all the arguments of the campaign boil down to a single fact. We are better together."

It wasn't quite Churchill, but it was more than enough to bring out loud cheers from the audience. Cameron put his hands in the air. It was anyone's guess whether it was a wave of acknowledgment or a wave goodbye.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by John Crace, for The Guardian on Monday 15th September 2014 20.14 Europe/London

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