Gordon Brown was passionate, but the Yes campaign is shouting louder

Gordon Brown: One of his best ever speeches
Gordon Brown: One of his best ever speeches
Alex Stevenson By

Logic and argument have been left behind on the final day of campaigning in the Scottish independence referendum. Both sides, gathering for rallies in Glasgow, are now just trying to shout as loudly as they possibly can.

On the steps of Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, hordes of nationalists lined up waving Saltire flags and blue helium-filled balloons this morning. "Hope not fear," they chanted. The mood was one of celebration; this was the side with all the momentum, and it showed on their faces. Here was real hope that they could turn things around just in time. "We can do it," one couple clutching 'Yes' leaflets told me breathlessly.

They broke off as a group of important Yes figures arrived. They were led by Blair Jenkins, the Yes Scotland chief executive who claimed three days ago his private canvassing indicated "I think we've got a Yes vote". He quickly handed the megaphone to Dennis Canavan, chairman of Yes Scotland's advisory board. Dennis dismissed the Westminster leaders' offer of more powers as being "written on the back of a fag packet". Elaine C Smith, the actress and comedienne, pointed out only "a pencil and a piece of paper on a ballot" were enough to "change the world". The gathered crowd behind her roared their approval.

It wasn't the biggest rally in the world. Far from it. But in terms of public visibility it just showed how much the Yes side have won the ground war. In Edinburgh, for example, nationalists have set up shop on Bruntsfield Links, distributing propaganda and talking to passers-by indiscriminately. There just isn't a No equivalent of this sort of activity. It's like a giant game set up by one of the two teams and being vigorously played by them, while their reluctant opposition plays along because they have to. Perhaps that is not the mood in the No camp right now. But with the polls having bred complacency for so long - or maybe just because the issue at stake inherently only leads to excitement and belief on one side - it does seem the grassroots enthusiasm is entirely towards 'Yes'.


The Westminster parties, marshalling the forces of the establishment, know exactly what works for the television cameras. They had chosen Community Central Hall in Maryhill, Glasgow, for one of their larger rallies. This was a more stage-managed affair, choreographed with mood music in its buildup. It had the look and feel of a Labour party event.  Alistair Darling and his cohorts were led on by a 'No' T-shirt-wearing piper. Eddie Izzard compered, but substituted reading out JK Rowling tweets in the place of jokes.

In a sense, Darling - the most boring politician in history - has been the perfect figurehead for the campaign. He emanates risk-averse. "For anyone who has any doubt, be in no doubt: you have to say no," he said mildly, to thunderous applause.

There was a lot of thunderous applause in this stuffy, hot hall. Lots of people got very worked up. But Darling was never among them. He would smile happily to himself whenever anyone said anything he agreed with, which happened about 99% of the time. He was as mild-mannered as they come. As voters have told me in both Glasgow and Edinburgh this week, his 'No' campaign has lacked any real passion. Their answer was waiting in the wings, probably biting his nails, clenching and unclenching that clunking fist.

For now, though, a remarkable substitution was taking place. We haven't seen the three party leaders share a stage together over independence in this campaign, because doing so would only underline the nationalist narrative of Westminster as a very dirty word. Today we got the next best - or worst - thing: the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish party leaders uniting at this rally in their opposition to independence. The acclaim shown to them by the room was heartfelt - and they weren't used to it. "I could get to like this," Labour's Johann Lamont said.

There is not much thinking behind the nationalist rally - just a raw feeling summed up in their chanting "yes yes yes yes yes yes yes" at fever pitch. Unionists, who feel they have logic on their side, rolled out a series of five ordinary voters to make their case. A young and pretty surgeon, who warned against the SNP's "unethical lies"; a pensioner; a shipbuilder booming away about his "comrades" welding steel around the UK; a 16-year-old; and a family-focused female.

These were just the warm-up act for the final speaker. Gordon Brown stalked into the hall bristling with passion. He spoke about three times louder than anyone else in the room. He gesticulated wildly, his jowls quivering with feeling as he dismantled Salmond's deceptions. It was a million miles away from the Brown who slunk away from the Labour leadership four years ago. This was Brown the boxer, reeling from the recoil of his own punches. If you ever needed a former prime minister to star in an action movie, this would be the moment to cast Brown. The former prime minister was irritated by the constant applause, he had so much to get out. No-one has spoken with more feeling at this campaign, at this level, than this.

But listen to the content and there was not, actually, much there. Words like "justice" and "solidarity" were thrown around with abandon. He talked about "values" as if this was a partisan gathering, not something much more than that. He talked about "our Scotland", which was nice, were it not the exact same language being used by the other side. It didn't really matter. This may have been the best speech he has ever given.

In the hall, the atmosphere was electric. There is something fiendishly clever about sticking a roof over people's heads as they clap and cheer and shout. On decibel levels, the 'No' camp wins this battle of the two rallies hands down. Brown made them yell the loudest. The difference, though, is that the energy of the room dissipates quickly out on to the street.

I stepped outside and, walking back to the station, was surrounded by preoccupied parents, businessmen and the occasional, er, scallywag. Daily life goes on. And the 'Yes' campaign, across Scotland, is doing more to disturb that daily life than the 'No'. It's the extent of their inroads, rather than the passions of Gordon Brown, which will decide the outcome tomorrow.

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