Tories seize on 'Scots reject tax powers' poll

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Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, seized on an opinion poll yesterday which he claimed showed that most Scots rejected Labour's plans to give a Scottish parliament tax-raising powers. The poll will stir the continuing row in Scotland over the Labour leadership's fierce denial that it intends to drop the policy.

National Opinion Polls in the Scottish edition of yesterday's Sunday Times reported that 47 per cent of voters there were opposed to a devolved parliament having the power "to impose up to an extra 3p in the pound on income tax", with 42 per cent in favour.

Mr Forsyth claimed the poll carried a "grave warning" for Tony Blair, the Labour leader, who should drop his "tartan tax". George Robertson, Labour's Scottish affairs spokesman, dismissed the poll question as "loaded", because the party's policy was also to income tax to be cut by 3p in the pound.

When asked about the policy, Mr Blair has always emphasised the power to cut taxes.But one well-informed Labour source said: "It is obviously absurd to suggest that Labour would cut income tax. The whole thing is symbolic. It is a bit of a Heath Robinson affair but we simply can't ditch it."

Mr Robertson said yesterday that the tax-varying power "may not be used", and Labour insiders concede that if and when a Scottish parliament is set up,the party would probably want to leave income tax unchanged. But Jim Wallace, the Scottish Liberal Democrats' leader, said if they were fighting a Scottish parliament election, "we would fight on the policy we had for the UK last time, of increasing income tax by 1p in the pound to pay for improvements in education".

Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond, said the findings were good for the SNP, which was "totally satisfied" it was winning the economic argument. With only a quarter of Scots wanting Labour to control a future assembly, Labour's position in Scotland was less secure than it seemed and the SNP intended a new drive to challenge them.

Tory officials played down former defence minister Alan Clark's call for Scottish independence as no more than a "flight of fancy."

Writing in the edition of the Sunday Times which carried the poll findings, Mr Clark said "Total independence cannot come soon enough for me." Scotland could model itself on Switzerland's cantonal form of government, he added.