Brown leads Labour bid in Scots poll

THE CHANCELLOR has become a dominant force in Labour's bid for control of the Scottish Parliament, in effect leading the campaign for the elections on 6 May.

Unlike Tony Blair, who, although born and educated in Scotland is considered very English, Mr Brown is widely liked by his country folk. He represents Dunfermline East and has made Labour north of the border very much his own fiefdom. Donald Dewar, Scottish Secretary and would-be leader of the parliament, has won respect but little ground against the Scottish National Party.

The Chancellor has a personal interest in ensuring Labour wins since, if the SNP gets enough seats to take Scotland down the road to independence, his long-term hopes of succeeding Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street will be dashed.

Delta House, Labour's new Glasgow headquarters, has largely been restaffed by "Brownies" under the general secretary Alex Rowley, former leader of the Chancellor's native county of Fife. Beavering away there this weekend was Douglas Alexander, Mr Brown's aide and speechwriter, whose loyalty was rewarded when he got the Paisley South seat ahead of a Blairite candidate.

Fife has seen a lot more of its favourite son. He has been photographed visiting businesses in the "wee kingdom", kicking a ball around at Raith Rovers and meeting Hector Chawla, the doctor who saved his right eye after a rugby accident at Kirkcaldy High School. The rumour is Mr Brown will be in his home town in July to marry Sarah Macaulay, a PR executive.

His Budget tax cuts were seen in Scotland as election giveaways for modest- income working families - once loyal to Labour but toying with the leftish SNP - and scarcely a day goes by without the promise of more goodies, from mobile phones for health workers to laptops for teachers and extra millions to cut crime. Mr Brown's campaign seems to be working in his, and Labour's, favour. Two polls yesterday give Labour some 40 per cent of the vote in the first ballot and just under that in the second, proportional, one. Those figures would give Labour about 60 seats in the 129-member Parliament, compared with 39 for the SNP, 18 for the Liberal Democrats and 12 for the Tories.

While on the face of it that represents a reopening of Labour's lead on the SNP, the figures are too close for comfort and Mr Brown has been briefing reporters from London on the SNP's extra taxes for Scots. Party strategists can see the advantages of allowing Mr Dewar to bathe in the limelight of the Chancellor's efforts while keeping clear of bruising encounters with the SNP.

The coming week will see the campaign for Scotland's first legislature in 300 years under way in earnest, with the parties holding glitzy launches and starting daily press conferences.

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