Belfast Telegraph

Gordon Brown makes devolution vow in bid to spike Yes campaign guns

By Nigel Morris and Chris Green

Gordon Brown has made a dramatic intervention in the Scottish independence battle as he set out moves to rush through new powers for Holyrood if next week's referendum rejects the break-up of the United Kingdom.

The former Labour prime minister was drafted in to spearhead the No campaign after a surge in support for separation left the outcome of the September 18 vote too close to call.

The trend is confirmed by a new poll published today which shows a dead heat between the Yes and No camps.

Mr Brown stepped into the breach amid growing frustration at the failure of Westminster elites to galvanise support for the Union.

David Cameron and George Osborne came under fire from their party for their response to the growing doubts over the survival of the United Kingdom.

There was also surprise that there are no plans for either Mr Cameron or senior Tory ministers to hit the campaign trail in Scotland this week despite the enormity of what is at stake.

The choice of the former prime minister to detail the devolution plans is also a rebuff for Alistair Darling, the head of Better Together, who was mauled by Alex Salmond in a televised debate last month. The fresh uncertainty over the referendum result sent the pound plunging and wiped billions off the stock market value of major Scottish firms.

In a speech last night in Midlothian, Mr Brown disclosed his timetable for the implementation of a "modern form of Scottish Home Rule" following a No vote.

It is also being backed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

Under the plan, which was first signalled by Mr Osborne at the weekend, details of fresh devolution of tax and welfare powers would be agreed by late November and legislation drafted next January.

Mr Brown said: "A No vote on September 18 will not be an end point, but the starting gun for action on September 19, when straight away we will kick off a plan to deliver the enhanced devolution that we want."

Yes Scotland reacted to Mr Brown's move with contempt, claiming it was fresh evidence of the "utter panic and desperation" within the No camp as it faltered in the polls.

A Downing Street source said: "The prime minister very much welcomes Gordon Brown's initiative. It reflects the discussions that have been going on within the parties in Scotland."

But one senior Tory MP spoke of his dismay over his party's tactics over the last week as the polls narrowed. He said: "Lots of people are saying we should have deferred this offer until after the result. It smacks of panic and plays into the SNP's hands."

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