Labour aide quits to attack `waste' of devolution

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Fierce exchanges over Labour's devolution plans continued yesterday, with Labour's case not helped by a vitriolic assault on the party's plans by Leo McKinstry, who resigned as political researcher to Douglas Henderson, Labour's public services sp okesman,to write in the Spectator that Labour's proposed assemblies would unleash "a regime of waste and bureaucracy" in Britain.

Mr McKinstry, a former councillor in Islington, north London, said the assemblies were "irrelevant and unwanted", invented only to provide a theoretical answer to the West Lothian question. They would replicate the "mean-minded cocktail of political correctness, bureaucracy, intervention and abuse of public money" that pervaded Labour local government and the whole party.

Mr Mckinstry, who before the 1992 election was an aide to Harriet Harman, the party's employment spokesman, said Labour's claims to have reformed itself in local government were based on "precious little evidence".

Labour officials dimissed his attack as an attempt to be "famous for five minutes", as George Robertson, Labour spokesman on Scottish affairs, concentrated his fire on a claim by John Major that an Edinburgh parliament would cost Scots £6 a week.

That figure was "invented rubbish", Mr Robertson said, adding: "Nobody believes the Tories on tax." No one would pay anything extra unless the electorate voted for parties advocating higher spending in elections to the assembly, he said.

Labour yesterday published a string of pro-devolution quotes from Conservatives stretching back two decades and more, but at Prime Minister's question time, Mr Major countered by quoting past words from Robin Cook, now Labour's spokesman on trade and industry, declaring that: "After devolution, the position of Scottish MPs would be untenable ... it would be wrong for those from Scotland to interfere in English domestic affairs after that watershed had been reached."

In a newspaper interview published yesterday, however, Mr Major acknowledged the "frustration of Scottish opinion" and said that he and Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, were examining measures to remove it.

Downing Street and Conservative Central Office, however, both played down any suggestion of significant new concessions being imminent, and Mr Robertson attacked his words as "just another stalling operation".

The last "stock-taking" exercise on Scotland had produced a revived Scottish Grand Committee and other measures but they amounted to "a mouse", Mr Roberston said. "Seeing is believing. Let him produce his plans".