Election `97: Scot-Nats accuse Labour of tartan sell-out

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Indy Politics
Scottish Nationalists seized on Tony Blair's assertion of English sovereignty over a Scottish Parliament as proof positive of a Labour retreat on devolution.

Mr Blair had "buried" the hopes of hundreds of thousands of people who believed Labour would deliver change, the SNP leader Alex Salmond said with evident relish as Mr Blair's snub to the Edinburgh parliament and block on its tax powers ignited the election campaign in Scotland.

For the SNP, struggling to make the nationalist voice heard above the two-party struggle, and the Scottish Tories, brought low by resignations and in-fighting, Mr Blair's remarks were manna from heaven.

But for Liberal Democrats who took part with Labour in the Scottish Constitutional Convention to draw up plans for a Scottish parliament, it was a more awkward moment.

Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said Mr Blair's words "betrayed" his lack of any "gut conviction" that there should be a parliament in Edinburgh.

He believed Labour was committed to a parliament, but the best guarantee that one would be delivered was to vote in a strong contingent of Lib- Dem MPs.

Launching the party's Scottish manifesto, Mr Wallace was sharply critical of Mr Blair's neutering of the proposed power to vary tax rates in Scotland by up to 3p in the pound. The pledge not to raise basic or standard rate of income tax for five years applied to Scotland as well as England, Mr Blair had said.

But Mr Wallace said the Scottish people had a right to decide through the ballot box whether they wanted the parliament to vary taxes.

"The tax powers of a Scottish parliament are every bit as much an issue of democracy as they are of taxation," he said. "Mr Blair is showing more interest in middle-England voters than in Scottish democracy."

While Mr Blair maintained the self-denying ordinance had "shot the Tory fox on tax", Mr Wallace suggested a Scottish Parliament might want to go it alone on the Liberal Democrat proposal for an extra 1p in the pound on tax to pay for education improvements.

Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, said Mr Blair had made a "laughing stock" of Liberal Democrats who were already spending the tartan tax, and had cast adrift his supporters in Scotland.

"The Scottish Constitutional Convention worked for six years and in six minutes Tony Blair has shredded its proposals. The whole devolution fiasco is a mess of contradictions and deceptions," Mr Forsyth said.

Mr Salmond said the Labour leader had shown his "contempt and derision" for the Scottish people.

"New Labour's devolution policy is now exposed by Blair for what it always has been - a deceit which would return to Edinburgh less power than an English parish council has, and leave all the decision-making then - as now - with English MPs."