Blair faces rebellion by angry Scots

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Two left-wing Scottish Labour MPs have broken ranks and attacked the party leadership, one accusing it of conducting a "witch-hunt" against backbenchers regarded as dissidents.

The row follows last week's announcement by Shadow Chancellor Gordon Brown that spending on the public services would be screwed down under Labour. Tension has been high since Tony Blair last year insisted that a referendum should take place before a Scottish parliament is set up.

On BBC TV's On the Record today, John McAllion, who resigned from Labour's front bench last year, says: "The party, all of us in Scotland, have been campaigning very hard and vigorously against what Michael Forsyth [Secretary of State for Scotland] is doing to the health service, is doing to local government, doing to public services in general across Scotland and it doesn't go down well to be told that if we get a Labour government it's not going to change."

He adds: "The closer we get to an election, the closer we get to a Labour government, the closer we get to the reality of that parliament being set up in Scotland, then I think you're beginning to see moves at Westminster to try to weaken that parliament and to bring it under the control of the Westminster parliament."

The latest bout of turbulence comes ahead of elections to the Scottish Labour Party executive this spring, amid rumours that modernisers are seeking to oust traditionalists and hard-line supporters of the Scottish parliament. And it follows just two days after Labour was forced to suspend its local party in Leeds North East, following the activities of left- wingers there.

On the same programme Dennis Canavan, the left-wing MP for Falkirk West, accuses the leadership of being "set on some kind of witch-hunt, or purge to get rid of people whom they view as dissidents".

He adds: "I think it's a very dangerous business indeed, especially in this sensitive period. We're on the eve of a general election and we should be uniting rather than unnecessarily dividing ourselves."

South of the border, the Conservatives sought to make political capital out of the suspension of the Leeds North East Labour Party. Labour's national executive committee said a meeting held on Thursday by Leeds North East members and officers ignored voting rules.

Last year, the left-wing candidate for the seat, Liz Davies, was deselected after intervention by the NEC, and a new candidate, Fabian Hamilton, has been chosen instead to fight the marginal seat in the general election.

Mike Davies, vice-chairman of the constituency party, said the suspension might affect Labour's chances of winning the seat.