Devolutionists try in vain to tame Tam

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The Independent Online
With more than a touch of deja vu, Tam Dalyell, the independent-minded MP for Linlithgow, is proving a greater hazard to plans for a Scottish Parliament than the Tory-dominated No-No campaign.

Yesterday he was carpeted by his constituency party for breaking what they believed was a promise not speak against devolution. While local activists accept he is not going to change his views, they had hoped he could be marginalised.

Questions he asked in the Commons, highlighting the nightmare of different tax rates north and south of the border, revived memories of the role he played scuppering Labour's 1979 devolution scheme. Then he posed not just the West Lothian Question over Scots MPs continuing to vote on English affairs, but helped set a higher threshold for a Yes than in the event was achieved.

Yesterday, in a room above Glen's public bar in Bathgate, Mr Dalyell defended himself against criticism from members of his party general management committee. Most are pro-home rule and "fed up" with the attention paid to their MP; however no disciplinary action was called for, according to secretary Jim Swan.

A leading critic is Heather Smart, vice-chairman of the CLP and office manager for Scotland Forward, the umbrella group leading the Yes campaign. "Tam has been a great constituency MP but the party id divided from him on this one," Ms Smart said. Mr Dalyell is set to cause more controversy with a letter he sent Peter Mandelson, challenging the Minister without Portfolio over an assertion that Scotland's role within the UK would be strengthened by home rule.

The claim, made on BBC Radio Scotland, was "quite simply preposterous", Mr Dalyell said. In his letter, he asked if it is conceivable that with 129 politicians in Edinburgh, Scots could continue to enjoy their influence in the Cabinet. The Treasury, Foreign Office, Defence and Transport departments are all headed by Scots MPs and Scots also occupy a disproportionate number of other ministerial posts.

Mr Dalyell also disputed Mr Mandelson's claim that the vast proportion of the UK population supported a Scottish Parliament.

While insisting he was "not one of the anti-Mandelson brigade", he added: "If Peter is going to mind the shop while the Prime Minister is away, I am going to challenge claims that I regard as just plain silly."