JUST at the moment, Lord Smith of Kelvin is a busy man.

To him falls the hellish task of herding the alley cats of party politics. Somehow the peer must persuade them to agree a scheme for further devolution, and do so before November ends. Good luck, as they say, with that.

It ought to be impossible. The Westminster parties had months and years to do the job and didn't bother. In fact, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats went into the last stretch of the referendum campaign refusing to produce a joint proposition to enlighten those liable to vote No. Quite an oversight.

Instead, Scotland heard only that there would be "more powers". We were not supposed to care much about the nature of those powers, their coherence or their utility within the constitutional jungle. "More" is good, right? Have a double scoop and worry about the taste later.

Later has arrived. Suddenly, Unionists are ready to think what was unthinkable. Now they are prepared to revise their definitions of what devolution can mean, even before parts of the Scotland Act 2012 - the last, last word - have taken effect. That's if they can agree. That's if Labour or Tories can get through a General Election and the risk of a hung parliament with good faith intact. A scan of the history books is advised.

The parties that bore the Better Together banner were as cunning as they were dishonest. By promising more while failing to say what more might mean, they promised nothing. Or rather, they promised a timetable for discussions to see if something could come from nothing. Three party leaders turned this into a "vow" in the Daily Record two days before the vote. Meanwhile, all pretended that Gordon Brown spoke for anyone other than Kirkcaldy's Labour voters.

In one sense, those who voted Yes can't complain. How can we claim the vow has been broken when we all said, on September 16 and after, that it was meaningless verbiage, a bare restatement of minimal commitments from people with no intention of delivering?

The important-looking ­document in the Record said only that there would be a "continuation" of Barnett. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband didn't promise not to hack Scotland's funding. The trio vouched that "extensive new powers" would come. They didn't name one. They welded NHS boilerplate to Barnett and the Scotland Act. Short of adding "caveat emptor" as a footnote, they couldn't have said less.

The tiny triumvirate created an impression. They deceived voters looking for reassurance - with a press release done up as holy writ - without putting deceit into words. You might wonder about people who do that. Vote No, said the actual text, and you vote for a commitment to a noble timetable, plus whatever might emerge from our bickering on the other side of a General ­Election campaign.

Politely, it was sleight of hand. It was helped along by a second misleading impression: that Brown and his constitutional wish list, complete with an all-media peroration live from Loanhead Miners Welfare, enjoyed any party's endorsement. All parties knew better; all kept quiet while the former prime minister "spoke for Britain" to rave reviews from the Unionist press.

In the final weeks of the campaign, a backbencher with an abysmal Westminster attendance record had plenty to say. For example, he told an Edinburgh International Book Festival audience that, given a No vote: "We're going to be, within a year or two, as close to a federal state as you can be in a country where one nation is 85% of the population."

Brown said there was "all-party agreement that they will bring in big changes after the referendum", that there was "no alternative" to taxation powers for Edinburgh.

Elsewhere, the former prime minister would talk of "a modern form of Scottish home rule". Once again, caveats counted for less than impressions created. Why qualify home rule with "modern"? Why only "as close to a federal state as you can be"? Perhaps because words and phrases such as federalism and home rule were more useful to a campaign in mid-panic than anything Brown could deliver, or Unionist parties would concede.

Barely had the votes been counted than Britain's saviour was urging Scots to sign a petition titled Westminster: Keep Your Promises to Scotland. To begin with, this wasn't even Brown's petition - he borrowed it, as it were - and there were no promises. Instead, the former Labour leader realised, belatedly, that his party's Better Together Bake-Off with the Tories had been exploited ruthlessly by David Cameron to make an issue of "English votes for English laws".

Brown refused to campaign alongside Tories. Like all his former colleagues, he was stuck with the consequences of his rhetoric. One was a twofold Tory determination: to screw Labour and put the Scots in their place. No more Barnett nonsense; no more Jock MPs voting on matters that do not touch on Scotland.

The SNP has long observed the principle. Who, believing in self-determination, could do otherwise? But if Labour aims to form a UK government and carry a Budget vote it will need its Scottish MPs, such as remain in 2015. Cameron produced his "English votes" notion within minutes of the result being announced to hammer the point home. Brown and Labour, sulking ever since, didn't see it coming.

What did they foresee? That the referendum would cause them to bleed support across Scotland? That crying perfidy after an alliance with Tories is sure to disgust former Labour voters? Brown achieved a monumental huff in the Commons last Tuesday while Tory MPs treated his constitutional schemes for Scotland with contempt as they pursued their "English votes" wheeze. So who thinks "Poor Gordon"?

He produced his petition, with a little more than 120,000 names, in a Commons adjournment debate on "the UK Government's relationship with Scotland" on Thursday. By then, his grand plan had expanded to 16 points. He claimed Holyrood would be able to raise 54% of its spending by 2016 if only we lived in the world according to Gordon. He defended the voting rights of non-English MPs. But Brown, like the debate, sounded like a footnote. Westminster has, in the parlance, "moved on". So the SNP can press on with the argument that "max" means maximum.

The Yes side lost the referendum with 45% of the vote. That was a decent result. Deceits won't work next time - as Brown is our witness - and Holyrood, if it avoids funding traps, will have more autonomy. Scottish Labour is in dire straits. The Tories are too dim to grasp that "English votes on English laws" only aids the case for Scotland's autonomy. It fractures any settlement Lord Smith could ever devise.

Brown and his followers thought they were being clever with campaign talk of "devo max". Instead, they have enforced the claim for a full, enacted definition of the term. Instead of worrying too much about the usual deceits and betrayals, Yes voters should take a broader view. This: it's all going just fine.