Gordon Brown was never as detestable as Prime Minister as Anthony Blair because incompetence is less appalling than evil. Mr Brown may have been a flawed, even a very flawed, human being, but he was at least recognisably human. And he had one quality that moved me and in my opinion lent him great dignity: he never made political capital of, or sought public sympathy for, his personal handicap.
You have only to imagine what Mr Blair might have made of such a handicap to understand the significance of that quality. Indeed the mind turns away from the very thought of it. I am a very poor sailor and can make myself queasy at the thought of a boat, but the very idea of Mr Blair talking of his injury and handicap gives me full-blown nausea.
This does not extenuate in any way Mr Brown’s part in the creation of the chronic economic crisis in which we now find ourselves, and which I expect to last to the end of my days. But more recently he has deserved well of his country, in that he assisted considerably, perhaps even decisively, in keeping the Union together and in avoiding the conjuration of terrible problems both north and south of the border from nothing, even worse than those that still remain.
Of course, there was considerable Labour self-interest in this: it is as dependent on Scotland as Scotland is on England (except in the imagination of the Scots Nationalists). But I think it would be unfair to ascribe Mr Brown’s intervention as merely to self-interest. However much there was in his great eve-of-referendum speech with which one might disagree – he seemed to make the NHS and social security almost the sole touchstone of a common patriotism, meaning that, in effect he believes not in a one-party but one-policy state, a state whose unity is guaranteed only by the benefits culture – the fact remains that it was infinitely more effective than any speech or action by any Tory. I do not think his passion was feigned, and perhaps the best moment was when he said that during the two world wars wounded British soldiers did not ask of each other which of the constituent countries they came from.
But no victory is final. The Nationalists plan to bore the Scots into independence: they will never get rid of referenda until they get the vote right. It is an excellent plan, from their point of view.