Scottish independence: two heavyweights throw their last punches

After two years on the road, the yes campaign came to Perth for their last night party. Shiny hats, shiny faces, Big Country's One Great Thing on an hour-long loop, and jeers for the pantomime villain, Nick Robinson.

Alex Salmond had come to share his dream for the final time; the dream of a man who had found, much to his surprise, that the promised land might actually be in reach after all and he needed to rethink his persona of the permanent underdog. The wavering sincerity of a Martin Luther King, the "Yes we can" mantra of a Barack Obama. Neither was an entirely comfortable fit.

At heart, Salmond is still the street-fighting underdog; his message one of freedom from oppression from the Westminster establishment. Westminster had only given the Scots referendum because it didn't believe they would ever vote for independence, he said, and this was the country's one opportunity to free itself of its imperial master. If Scotland was going to hit the rocks, then it had the right to guide itself on to the rocks. And he, personally, would be at the helm. Better to be a poor man than a slave.

But Scotland wasn't going to be poor, he continued. They were living in a land of milk and honey where 40,000 new jobs had been created in the past few months. This sounded suspiciously like a good reason to stay in the union, if not an outright thank-you to the Tories, but the 1,500 supporters in the hall didn't see it that way. They cheered him on; their dream and his alive for now.

Earlier in the day in Glasgow, another preacher had given the performance of his life. In content, Gordon Brown's speech was nearly identical to the one he had given the day before in Clydebank. Only without the jokes; always an advantage with Gordon. In its passion, though, it was unrecognisable.

When Alistair Darling was chancellor of the exchequer, he talked of Gordon Brown unleashing the forces of hell on him. Now they were unleashed on Alex Salmond. "The silent majority will be silent no more," he roared, as he ripped open "the economic trapdoor" through which Scotland would fall if the country voted yes and stared inside. This was the true Brown; the man many in the UK had longed to see when he was prime minister. The radical freed from the necessity of sweet-talking middle England. "Comrades," he said, and the Tories and the Lib Dems in the audience cheered as loudly as the Labour supporters.

Above all, though, Brown became his father's son. This wasn't so much a speech as a prayer, an invocation worthy of any southern Baptist revivalist meeting. He implored. He beseeched. He cajoled. With his hands locked together, he looked heavenwards. What two world wars had brought together, "let no narrow nationalisation split asunder". With that he fell to his knees as if expecting a bolt of lightning to strike the roof of the community hall and for the newly crowned Queen of Scots, aka JK Rowling, to appear on a golden chariot bearing a new Act of Union with Devo Max added. Brown had saved his best for last, and if this was to be his political epitaph, it was a hell of a way to sign off.

Powered by article was written by John Crace, for The Guardian on Wednesday 17th September 2014 23.25 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010