Two MPs break ranks on devolution

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Two Labour MPs launched attacks yesterday on the party's plans for Scottish and Welsh assemblies.

Tam Dalyell, MP for Linlithgow, called the plans for Scotland "election-losing nonsense" and Llew Smith, left-wing MP for Blaenau Gwent, said a Welsh assembly could break up the United Kingdom. They were branded out-of-touch loners by colleagues, but th e attacks were seized on by the Conservatives.

Mr Dalyell went ahead with his speech in Leicestershire despite a warning from his constituency party at the weekend to remain silent.

Restating his celebrated "West Lothian question", Mr Dalyell said that if there were a Scots parliament, English MPs at Westminster would be debarred from voting on Scots domestic issues, while Scots MPs would remain free to vote on English issues. With a Conservative majority likely in England even with a Labour government, "how long could such a situation last?" he asked. "Coherent government would become impossible."

At the forthcoming general election "in every marginal constituency which it is necessary for Labour to win, the electors will be asked if they want 72 Scots deciding the complexion of their government in English counties and cities, when those same men and women do not have such authority in Scotland itself".

He added: "How could any of us have the nerve to whisper `unaccountable quango' in the light of our own proposals?"

In Wales, Mr Smith published a document arguing an assembly "has no place in Wales". One could not be introduced without a referendum, he argued, given that a referendum had been held in 1979 and had produced overwhelming rejection of the idea.

It was "fantasy football" to believe Welsh people voted Labour because of the commitment to an assembly. Mr Smith, a former MEP, said that with powers being transferred to Europe, the further transfer of Welsh Office powers would disconnect Wales from Westminster, leading ultimately to the break-up of the UK.

Paul Flynn, secretary of the Welsh group of Labour MPs, condemned Mr Smith, as "isolated, confused and lacking support in his own constituency party", although two or three more of the 26 Welsh Labour MPs are thought privately to share Mr Smith's view.

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