Major has more gifts for the Scots

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The Independent Online
John Major continued his party's charm offensive in Scotland yesterday. Like an estranged husband determined to avoid a decree nisi, the Prime Minister came laden with gifts of new jobs for Scotland and stern warnings on the dangers of "divorce" from the union.

Addressing the Scottish Grand Committee, meeting in Dumfries for the first time, Mr Major became the first Westminster premier in 300 years to address a gathering of Scottish MPs on Scottish soil.

In the week that has seen the Government attempt to woo the Scots with the symbolic promise of returning the Stone of Destiny, Mr Major offered a more practical gift when he announced new investment from Taiwan, worth pounds 40m and, crucially, bringing in 1,000 new jobs. This comes only eight months after the announcement by another Taiwanese company that it was investing pounds 260m to create 3,300 jobs. The two successes will boost job prospects in Lanarkshire following the closure of the Ravenscraig Steel complex. The Prime Minister said that the new jobs, which are in electronics, were more than the jobs lost in the former steel industry.

Mr Major's transformation to all things tartan continued when he announced that the University of St Andrews would be given funds to edit and republish the acts of the pre-union Scottish Parliament which voted to join the English Parliament in 1707. When MPs on the substantially fuller opposition benches jeered at this latest gesture, the Prime Minister, feigning anger, said that it would add to Scotland's scholarship.

What the study will reveal is that the Scottish Tories initially opposed the Union, and in protest did not send any of their numbers to Westminster. However, as leader of the new Tories - as opposed to the Tories of old Scotland - Mr Major passionately defended the success of the Union, stating that he was Prime Minister of the "United Kingdom", and that "the Union was a birthright beyond price and should not be put at risk by politicians scrabbling around for votes". Raising the debate on the Union for the coming election campaign, Mr Major said that plans for devolution were "the beginning of the divorce between England and Scotland", and that he intended to fight "through, at and beyond the election".

His fight, however, is taking ever stranger forms. First with the Stone of Scone, then with the St Andrews study - and yesterday Mr Major chose to honour the memory of Scotland's national poet Robert Burns by laying a wreath at Burns' mausoleum at Dumfries. The Prime Minister also attended a Burns Gala evening, where he was gently reminded by Labour's chief whip and former Scottish affairs spokesman Donald Dewar that the poet he had spent the day honouring had spent the latter part of his life in Dumfries as a tax gatherer.

George Robertson, Labour's spokesman on Scottish affairs, replying to Mr Major in the Grand Committee debate, said that if the current charm incentive were to continue, perhaps there was truth in the rumour that Mr Major had sought permission from the Queen to "allow Gary McAllister to retake the missed penalty against England during the Euro 96 football tournament". More seriously, he said the Scots were "not going to be bought off by symbols of ancient power" when they sought genuine democratic power.

Mr Major had clearly chosen the Grand Committee to launch his party's first outright attack on Labour's promise to legislate for the Scottish assembly within a year of taking office. He said that such a timetable was "absurd". Outside the debate, he told journalists: "I know they will been out of office for 18 years, but they couldn't pass such constitutional matters through the House of Commons and House of Lords within 18 months."

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