Labour to blitz Scottish vote

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Tony Blair is to spearhead a 100-hour voter-blitz in Scotland aimed at countering a potential "Diana Factor" in the turnout for Thursday's vital referendum on devolution.

Labour leaders are worried that the spillover of grief from the death of the Princess of Wales could make people less inclined to vote for the biggest constitutional change for nearly 300 years.

The Prime Minister stressed on The David Frost Show this morning that Scottish voters should be confident about their future and back the Government's plans for a parliament in Edinburgh with tax-varying powers.

He will travel south from Balmoral after talks over lunch with the Queen for a barnstorming tour of the central lowlands of Scotland, concluding in Glasgow tomorrow night. His theme is: "This parliament will be good for Scotland and good for the United Kingdom."

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, will today team up with film star Sean Connery - a leading figure in the Scottish National Party - to make a similar appeal in Queensferry, Fife. They will be photographed appealing for a "Yes,Yes" vote, in sharp contrast to the ill-fated referendum of 1979 when Labour refused to share a platform with the SNP.

Labour officials admitted privately that the Government faced a real problem over making the "delicate transition" from the week-long grieving process over Diana to the rough and tumble of devolution politics. "But we have to concentrate minds," said a senior source.

Party strategists, who met last Thursday to assess prospects for the vote, despite the supposed moratorium on political activity, believe there will be overwhelming backing for the first question, on the principle of setting up a Scottish Parliament with members elected by proportional representation. It would oversee the allocation of the annual pounds 14bn government expenditure in Scotland and have law-making powers over schools, the NHS, local government, the universities, police and prisons, the legal system. road transport and the arts.

They are also cautiously optimistic about securing approval for the second proposal giving the parliament the power to vary income tax by as much as 3p in the pound north of the border. This could add pounds 450m a year to the Scottish tax burden.

An opinion poll in today's Scottish Sunday Times suggests a large majority on the first question - around two to one - and a clear but decisive lead on the second question. It also indicates that the voters do not support anti-devolution demands for deferring the referendum because of the Princess Diana tragedy. Her death may make little difference to the turnout on Thursday, but the Government is taking no chances. Ten Cabinet and junior ministers will be out every day urging people to vote.

Mr Brown will seek to deflect adverse comment from business leaders that a tax-raising legislature is likely to hit investment and employment. He is to tell voters: "This parliament will be good for business and for jobs in Scotland. It will bring health and education matters closer to the people, because it will be able to legislate on these matters for the Scottish people. You now have 100 hours before you take this momentous decision. We can make this transition, we can go for a 'Yes, Yes' vote."

Labour has decided it is open season on the Conservatives, who are opposing the setting up of a parliament but have said they would participate if the people decide in favour. William Hague, the Tory leader, will take this message on a two-day campaign tour.

In Wales, where the referendum for an elected assembly in Cardiff without tax-raising powers takes place on 18 September, Labour's private polling shows the pro-devolution camp well in the lead, but just short of an overall majority.

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