Blair urges battle against separatists

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TONY BLAIR tried yesterday to pull together the Labour Party in Scotland for a battle against the "separatists" of the Scottish National Party. Labour is by no means certain to win.

In a speech to the Scottish party's annual conference in Glasgow, the Prime Minister recognised suspicions of the New Labour project among Scottish activists and called on "social democrats and socialists" to unite in the election campaign for the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Blair appealed to Old Labour values of "solidarity", not just for a Labour Party that has been in turmoil in Scotland since the general election, but also between the nations of the United Kingdom. "It is a battle between social justice and separatism," he said. He claimed that SNP policies would lead to job losses and put an extra pounds 30 a week on the tax bill of every Scot on average earnings.

In an ironic reminder of Labour's difficulties over the past two years, delegates were welcomed to the city by Pat Lally, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, who humiliated the party in court when it tried to discipline him over an alleged "trips for votes" scandal that hit the city council. Mr Lally is bowing out of politics before the advent of the new parliament, which he regards with deep misgivings.

But with the SNP almost neck-and-neck with Labour in the opinion polls, Mr Blair and the leadership were out to rebuild bridges in the run-up to the 6 May elections. John Reid, a Transport minister, said New Labour was not the invention of a "London-based elite" and that it spoke with a Scottish accent as well as Welsh, Brummie, Scouse and southern English.

"It lives in council schemes as well as in private estates. It wears boiler suits as well as an Armani suit," Mr Reid said.

Responding to criticisms that "London" wants to keep control of both party and parliament, Mr Blair said that the point of devolution was to bring diversity. The Holyrood parliament would call for "distinctive Scottish solutions to Scottish problems", he said, citing proposals for land reform, the establishment of a Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency - there isn't one in England - and a lead in nursery-school provision.

By 2003, if Scotland voted Labour in May, there would be a minimum of four computers in every primary and secondary school classroom, Mr Blair said, doubling the target for the rest of the UK and striking at an SNP proposal to save pounds 62m every three years by scraping the Internet National Grid for Learning.

Attacking what he called the politics of identity, the Prime Minister said the only policy that mattered to the SNP was divorce from England. "They are a one-issue party. But this is not a one-issue parliament," he said.