The latest Tory attack on Labour's plans, following the Prime Minister's solo assault during the Scottish Grand Committee in Dumfries a fortnight ago, focused on the cost of devolved assemblies for Scotland and Wales. Labour has not reaffirmed its belief that assemblies for English regional chambers would be included in the plan to devolve power away from Westminster, but Dr Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative party chairman, nevertheless included them in his arithmetic, calculating a cost to the tax payer of pounds 108m a year.
Dr Mawhinney also unveiled another poster that will be appearing across the United Kingdom. Labour's Union Jack is depicted as a white flag with the message: "New Labour. No Britain."
The number crunchers at Tory Central Office stated that a Scottish Parliament would cost about pounds 50m a year, with a capital cost of pounds 36m spread over the first five years. It estimates that the new parliament building would cost pounds 12m, with annual running costs of pounds 43m.
The annual cost of the Welsh assembly is put at pounds 34, with running costs of pounds 29m a year. Labour's nine regional chambers are estimated to cost pounds 19m.
Such calculations appear to ignore the costs currently incurred by the Scottish and Welsh Offices. Regardless, Dr Mawhinney said that if the assemblies went ahead, "Britain would be reduced to a collection of squabbling, inward looking principalities." The Tories have taken 500 poster sites in England, 100 in Scotland and 70 in Wales, showing that the constitutional debate at the election will not be confined to north of the Border and in Wales.
The idea of expensive devolution scaring away badly needed inward investment, a theme championed by Mr Major and by Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State for Scotland, was reinforced yesterday by William Hague, the Welsh Secretary.
Labour dismissed Tory jibes, with the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, saying it was inconceivable that, for example, Korean businessmen had not carefully studied Labour's plans before choosing Newport, south Wales, for a pounds 1.7bn microchip complex creating more than 6,000 jobs. He accused the Tories of producing "scare stories and bogus figures".Reuse content