Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Years roll away as firebrand Irn-Broon is liberated

Could Gordon Brown lead the Scottish Labour party and become First Minister?

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Indy Politics

The big beast is back. This was vintage Gordon. Not least in the startling sense that this often seemed like the young Scottish firebrand of more than 25 years ago in the 63-year-old Irn-Broon’s body.

And where better than in Clydebank, where “I and so many others” came to lend support to the famous 1972 shipyard sit-in. At times it was if the tightly controlled, southern England-obsessed years of New Labour had never happened.

But also in the sense that he is still – or perhaps the word should be again – a master of polemic. Scotland’s independence could mean a “doubling of austerity”. Salmond, a “modest man” who thought that the “other two great Scots” apart from him had been Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, had only two supportive international experts at his disposal – “North Korean President Kim Jong-un and Rupert Murdoch”. The fairly small audience of “No” activists – and this was principally for the TV cameras – loved it.

The crowd was almost too small, in fact. For this was a barnstormer that would have gone down just as well as with an audience of 1,000. He deployed all the trademark gestures – from the clenched fist to the downward karate chop. When he denounced Salmond for “perpetrating a lie” about the NHS he pulled out a copy of the 1998 Scotland Act from his inside pocket to show that the Scottish government was already free to spend whatever it chose on the NHS. (In another politician this might seem forced; in Gordon’s case it’s wholly plausible that he would carry the act around – not because he doesn’t know it by heart, but in case anyone was rash enough to challenge him on it.)

OK, we may have heard some of the jokes before, like the self-deprecating one about the woman who said to him that the “present Prime Minister is worse than you were” before adding that she had “lived through 13 Prime Ministers and each one had been worse than the last”.

But he devastatingly mocked Salmond for his claims to lead the party of social justice. The SNP didn’t envisage the revenue-raising measures – like a higher top rate of tax – that Labour had proposed in pursuit of a more equal society. Instead it merely envisaged a cut in corporation tax so “the richest directors of all the richest utilities, who have got the biggest profits already in Scotland, get a massive multi-million tax cut.

‘‘Inequality will last until Doomsday” (last words drowned in applause). This was a Brown liberated by being on a Scottish stage instead of being a paranoid prisoner in his Downing Street bunker.

Twice he suggested that if the SNP couldn’t run the NHS properly, Labour could take over in Scotland and do it for them. If the “No” vote he is now leading the campaign for happens tomorrow, could the man who now seems to be singlehandedly rewriting the British constitution return from the political dead and lead the Scottish Labour party and become First Minister? Yesterday it seemed just possible.