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John McGurk imagines that somewhere in North Queensferry a grey-haired burly figure is looking out towards the Forth Bridge wondering where life had gone wrong...

Suddenly, a phone rings. He picks it up and answers abruptly…


(To be read in a rather upper-class voice)

Hello... is that Mr Brown?

(To be read in a rather dour, sulking voice)

Yes... it's me speaking.

Ah Mr Brown... How very nice to talk to you. I'm calling of behalf of George Osborne. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wonders if you might be able to be of some assistance?

Oh really. Osborne wants me to help save the union... is that it?

Well I wouldn't quite put it like that Mr Brown but we do think you are in a position to, shall we say, persuade some people to... er... do the right thing.

Do the right thing?...that wasn't Osborne's view when he ****** me as the boss of the IMF!

Well, that decision may have been rather hasty Mr Brown but...we think things are getting rather out of hand in Scotland. We need a bit of a leg up, shall we say. After all, we're all unionists aren't we?

Go on.

In the circumstances, Mr Osborne is prepared to re-consider how you may be able to serve our United Kingdom in the future. I'm sure, Mr Brown, that you understand the delicacy of the situation?

(Long pause)

(Sharp intake a breath)

How can I help you?

That may not be exactly what happened but when David Cameron and George Osborne realised that Scotland was about to vote “Yes” they knew that only the former Prime Minister could rally the silent minority.

In particular, it was crucial that those Labour supporters who were converting in droves to the Scottish independence cause had to be turned round fast.

With just a few days left, Labour's biggest gun in Scotland was brought into the referendum campaign where his rage could be put to the best use.

Gordon knew immediately how he could win the No campaign; he would get his old pals at the Daily Record, Scotland's Labour supporting newspaper, to publish a commitment to honour more devolution powers and then rant in front of party supporters about a timetable for action as TV cameras rolled.

He would offer what most voters had wanted all along --- despite the fact that The Vow was dramatically short on detail: in fact, there wasn't any.

Neither was there any confirmation that The Vow would be supported in parliament.

But the tactic worked like a dream: the Record obeyed, “The Vow” was published as an historic parchment signed by the three Westminster leaders and the document became the game-changer that swung the vote.

Alas, David Cameron and George Osborne also realised that they could also pull a fast one.

By then announcing that English devolution must be considered “in tandem and at the same pace” as more powers for Scotland, they hope to keep the union but get rid of Scottish Labour MPs voting on English matters.

The West Lothian question, first asked by the redoubtable Tam Dalyell all those years ago, finally gets answered while Labour's hopes of ruling with a Parliamentary majority get screwed and the Tories sneak into Downing Street again: brilliant.

Despite what Alex Salmond says, we cannot be sure that The Vow is unravelling but it certainly looks like Gordon Brown's timetable of more devolution for Scotland is under pressure.

The Labour leader, and next Prime Minister hopeful, Ed Miliband quickly realised that he has to try and kick any English devolution into the long grass.

But any ensuing row to slow down the process will clog up the Brown timetable and make The Vow worthless.

This means that what happens over the next few months may well have just as great an impact on the United Kingdom as the referendum campaign.

If Scottish Labour voters believe that they were duped by The Vow, they will react with fury at the general election which is just eight months away.

Glasgow, Dundee and North Lanarkshire, once the greatest heartlands of Labour in Scotland but now independent strongholds, will surely toss out Labour MPs for Yes candidates.

Angry voters are likely to repeat their decision at the Scottish general election in May 2016.

While the experts reckoned that the stars could only line up once to provoke a referendum on Scottish Independence - a SNP landslide, an economic meltdown, a Tory Prime Minister and a Labour party in chaos - exactly the same factors could well produce another referendum before 2020.

In those circumstances, Gordon Brown may regret taking that phone call...but will he really care if he does end up as the boss of the IMF?


John McGurk was editor of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday and was managing editor of The Daily Telegraph.

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