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Indy Politics

The event of the day was the launch of the Liberal Democrats' manifesto, though it was overshadowed by arguments about Labour's plans for Scotland and on tax.

The Liberal Democrats renewed their promise of pounds 2bn per year for education, to be raised by putting a penny on the basic rate of income tax, and pounds 200m a year for the health service by putting an extra five pence on the price of a packet of cigarettes.

They also promised to recruit more doctors and nurses, cut hospital waiting lists and restore free dental and eye checks. On the environment, the party would increase taxes on pollution but would cut tax to pounds 10 on cars under 1600cc. Every government policy would have an environmental objective built in. On crime, the Liberal Democrats plan to put 3,000 more police officers on the beat.

While the Conservatives again concentrated on attacking Labour, Tony Blair was launching his party's Scottish manifesto. Its central plank was the party's plan for devolution, and the promise of a referendum on the subject "as quickly as possible" after polling day. The Labour leader also promised that a windfall tax on privatised utilities would help 25,000 young Scots off benefit and into work.


Blair came under fire after an interview in the Scotsman in which he compared the powers of a Scottish parliament to those of a parish council.

He told the paper: "The powers are like those of any local authority. Powers that are constitutionally there can be used, but the Scottish Labour Party has no plans to raise income tax, and once the power is given it is like any parish council, it's got the right to exercise it."

Major described Blair's remarks as "patronising and extraordinarily inaccurate", while the Scottish National Party leader, Alex Salmond, said Blair had exposed the weakness of his devolution plans: "What he has done is to confirm that England rules OK under devolution." Pressed on whether Westminster would be able to veto a Scottish parliament's tax-raising powers, Blair did not answer.

Major also turned his fire on Labour's tax plans, saying that Conservative tax cuts coming into force this week would be reversed by July if the party won power.

Meanwhile, Paddy Ashdown launched the Liberal manifesto, calling for an end to fatalism in British politics and a new belief that things could change.


Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, was able to play the role of policymaker standing firm against rowdy trade unionists at the NASUWT conference in Bournemouth. To boos and hisses, she told teachers there was "never any excuse for a professional person to strike". She caused more anger by outlining a history of Tory "fair trade-union legislation", and later described the whole event as "rather jolly".

Tony Blair yesterday seemed to compare the powers of a Scottish parliament to those of a parish council. Nor would he say if he would overrule an Edinburgh parliament which wanted to put up income tax. This was a reminder of an earlier Scotsman interview when he appeared not to know about the Claim of Right signed by Scots Labour MPs asserting their nation's right to decide how it will be governed.


Richard Branson told Railway Magazine that he thought Labour was "secretly relieved" about railway privatisation. Branson, who now runs two train companies, said that Labour would not have sold off the railways.

"I believe that, secretly, they are quite relieved it's happened," he said. "I therefore don't think they'll do much to rock the boat." He added that a Labour election victory was "not something that worries me too much".


The millennium is mentioned in all the main parties' manifestos, and its occurrence always marks a passage of pseudo-inspirational hogwash. "Every vote and every seat we win will ensure that in the next parliament Britain can at last face up to the challenge, as we enter the next millennium". A classic example from Paddy Ashdown, set out in the Liberal Democrat manifesto yesterday.

The Monster Raving Loony Party announced that they are likely to field more than the magic 50 candidates - entitling them to a party political broadcast. Just as the Natural Law Party shot to fame in the 1992 general-election campaign with their broadcast about the possibilities for `yogic flying' and transcendental meditation, the Monster Raving Loony party will be using their airtime to push their radical policies. According to party chairman Alan Hope, their plans include proposals to move the beef mountain to the South Sandwich Islands and a commitment to turn butter mountains into ski slopes.



The media spotlight was turned on beards yesterday, when a flustered Tony Blair struggled at his morning press conference to justify his comments about devolution in the Scotsman. Unable to remember the names of the journalists questioning him, he referred to them as "the beard on the left" and "the beard on the right". The Labour leader may wish he had shown the bearded community a little more respect. If he wins on 1 May, he is committed to appointing three bearded men (Frank Dobson, Robin Cook and David Blunkett) to the Cabinet, the first since Sidney Webb in 1930.