SNP surge forces Blair to fly north

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TONY BLAIR will visit Scotland tomorrow to face growing fears that his hold on power in Labour's Scottish heartland and his party's strategy for devolution are in danger of being wrecked by the SNP.

Amid growing panic at a six-point lead by the SNP, Labour leaders plan to relaunch their campaign for the Scottish Parliament in a fortnight with a "vision statement" attacking SNP support for independence.

The party's spin doctors, The Independent has learned, are also planning to move campaign headquarters out of Keir Hardie House in Glasgow, a Victorian town house where the party has been located for more than a decade, into a new open-plan office, possibly in Edinburgh where the Parliament and the other parties are based.

Derek Draper, the former Labour "insider" and sacked lobbyist, said Labour party workers fear that a defeat in Scotland - Labour's heartlands - will have reverberations on the party in England, undermining Mr Blair's reputation as a winner. The Tories have warned that devolution would unravel the union, but it could first unravel Labour's hold on power north of the border.

The decision to move the campaign control centre reflects the increasing mood of anxiety in the party at the failure of the summer offensive against the SNP to neutralise its lead over Labour.

Matthew Taylor, assistant general secretary of the Labour Party in London, will spearhead strategy in Scotland. He told party workers communication was impossible on four floors at Keir Hardie House.

Mr Blair will hold a question-and-answer session before joining the Queen in Balmoral for the weekend - the anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar will unveil the first stage in the fight back against the SNP on 11 September, 12 months after the referendum on Scottish devolution - with a "vision statement" attacking the SNP's focus on the break with the Union.

A Labour Source said: "It will not be a manifesto. It is broader than that. It will attempt to engage in policy on local government, land reform, education, and what we want to do is create a bigger debate over the Autumn ... the Scottish Parliament must not become a new elite just in Edinburgh."

SNP leader, Alex Salmond, has dismissed as a flop Labour's "summer of scrutiny".

Helen Liddell, the former Treasury minister promoted by Mr Blair to Mr Dewar's side to beef up the Scottish campaign, began the summer offensive with an attack on the SNP over an alleged 15p tax hike, but that quickly faded.

Labour claims the offensive is working, with the SNP's earlier lead of 14 per cent being cut back in a poll last week to six points, with the SNP on 44 and Labour on 38. However, the SNP source said: "We never expected to keep a lead of 14 per cent; that was never realistic."

The Scottish National Party deputy leader, Dr Allan Macartney, has died following a heart attack yesterday at his home in Aberdeen.

Dr Macartney, who was 57, represented North East Scotland in the European Parliament since 1994. He was also a distinguished academic.

Leading article, Review, page 3