Row over MP's death eclipses 'yes' campaign

Devolution: Disciplinary move dominates Scotland's big day as Welsh get cash promise
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The Independent Online
The campaign for a "yes-yes" vote in Scotland's referendum on devolution struggled to get off the ground yesterday amid the growing row over the death of the Paisley MP Gordon McMaster.

Both the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and the Minister Without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson, were expected to visit Scotland later this week to give their backing to the initiative.

Labour is to launch its own "yes" campaign today, but yesterday's joint press conference with the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats was overshadowed by the announcement of disciplinary action against the MP for West Renfrewshire, Tommy Graham.

Donald Dewar, the Secretary of State for Scotland and leader of the Scottish Labour Party, appealed to journalists not to ignore the important issues surrounding the devolution vote on 11 September because of the events in Paisley.

"I think it is a serious matter that's been seriously addressed. When the party has something to say about it, it will say it on the merit of its findings," he said. "This press conference is not about that. I hope you will respect that."

Mr Dewar was speaking at a briefing organised by Scotland Forward - the first to bring together the country's three political parties.

He was joined by Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, and Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman.

Mr Salmond, whose party joined Scotland Forward only after a closely- argued debate, said he believed there would be a great deal of interest in the campaign.

"A Scottish parliament wouldn't have had the poll tax," he said. "I suspect a Scottish parliament wouldn't have had the Skye Bridge tolls or wasted money on HCI hospital.

"A lot of concentration has been given to undemocratic decisions taken by Westminster."

Later, an SNP spokesman tried to throw a positive light on the clash between the launch and the Paisley announcement, arguing that Labour's problems in Scotland made the case for a Scottish Parliament even more pressing.

"These problems are the problems of the status quo and of the first past the post voting system. We clearly need a new kind of politics in Scotland," the spokesman said.

The proposed voting system for the Parliament, under which 76 members would be elected through a first past the post system and a further 56 on a proportional basis from party lists, would not necessarily deliver Labour an absolute majority, he added.

Brian Monteith, co-ordinator of the Think Twice campaign against devolution, said: "We think the campaign is in a tail-spin. We think the stench coming from areas such as Paisley, Monklands, Glasgow and Govan is becoming overpowering."

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