Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gives a speech at Glasgow University in Glasgow

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gives a speech at Glasgow University in Glasgow (RUSSELL CHEYNE, / June 22, 2014)

By Alistair Smout

DUNDEE Scotland (Reuters) - Gordon Brown, once ranked Britain's most unpopular prime minister in half a century, may yet emerge as the man who convinces Scots to reject independence.

For many English, Scotsman Brown is an unlikely hero.

Often brooding and awkward in front of the camera, the former prime minister led his Labour party to its worst electoral defeat in a generation in 2010.

But in the industrial towns of Scotland where the fate of the United Kingdom will be set by 1 million as yet undecided voters in a Sept. 18 referendum, few rival Brown's influence.

In speeches in towns and cities across Scotland Brown makes a passionate case to stay within the United Kingdom - a G8 power with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Brown and an increasing number of others are fearful Britain may be sleepwalking towards a break up.

"Countries can be lost by mistake," Brown, who still speaks with the accent of his native land, told reporters over lunch in London's Westminster parliament.

"Don't allow it to become British politicians versus Scotland, which is how too easily this has been caricatured, because that simply plays into the hands of the nationalists. That's a losing ticket."

Less than 100 days before Scotland's independence vote, Brown's is a sobering intervention for many English.

Polls show Scots are still unlikely to vote for independence but they also show the Better Together campaign's lead has narrowed. The head of that campaign, Alistair Darling, has said the vote will be close.

Supported by Britain's three main political parties, the Better Together message has veered from warnings over the perils of secession to emotional appeals for unity.


Prime Minister David Cameron, whose Conservative party has just one of Scotland's 59 seats in the London parliament, has conceded that his privileged English background and centre-right politics mean he isn't the best person to win over Scots.

That has left the Better Together campaign largely in the hands of opposition Labour, winner of 41 Scottish seats in 2010 and the only party with the local organisation and support capable of checking the secessionist Scottish National Party.

Labour strategists said many of the undecided voters are Labour party supporters who dislike being lectured by English Conservatives.

Enter Gordon Brown, one of very few British politicians Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond is said to fear.

"As a patriotic Scot I cannot opt out of a debate and decision that affects children whom I love and people whom I respect and represent, all the more so since we are being asked to make an irreversible decision that will have consequences for generations," Brown said in his treatise 'My Scotland, Our Britain: A Future Worth Sharing'.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Brown studied at the University of Edinburgh and gained a PhD on the Labour Party's role in driving political change in Scotland.