DON'T FORGET THAT IT'S OUR COUNTRY TOO; PATRIOT GAMES: Tony Blair Turns Up the Heat on the SNP and Claims Labour Is the Only Party for Scotland

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PREMIER Tony Blair yesterday declared Labour were "the true patriots".

In a direct challenge to the SNP's claim to the title, Scotland's Party, he derided the Nats for "building barriers rather than bridges".

He added: "It is not a politics that can elevate. It can only divide and diminish."

And he shrugged off a recent embarrassing poll which said that 60 per cent of the Scottish people believed he should keep out of the election battle for Scotland's new Parliament.

He insisted: "I'm here because I'm Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and I'm proud of it, here as leader of the Labour Party and proud of that, too.

"I am here because I care about Scotland, care passionately about the future and want that future to be based on the politics of ideals, not identity, of principles not of passports."

In his keynote speech to Scottish Labour's conference in Glasgow, he said: "In the end ours is the real and true patriotism in that it has the confidence to embrace the future.

"When I look at that future and see how marvellous it could be, I know we have the strength to take this battle forward."

Mr Blair dumped his carefully-crafted speech to make a personal plea to Scots to stick with Labour.

He shrugged aside the difficulties which have beset his administration recently - and which have left many grass roots members down-heartened.

The Government have faced criticism over issues such as the GM foods scandal and the jobs crisis which is growing in Scotland.

And a recent Daily Record poll found the Nats have built a 10-seat lead in the race for Holyrood. But the upbeat PM told the audience at the Royal Concert Hall: "Be proud of our party and the principles we uphold.

"It is a battle between social justice and separatism. That is a battle every one of us came into politics to fight."

He told them to boast of a string of policies delivered by the Labour administration, including the minimum wage, the biggest ever increase in child benefit and minimum income guarantees for families and pensioners.

Mr Blair blamed the international economic crisis for the thousands of jobs which have been lost in Scotland this year.

But he was able to offer little short-term help, merely saying: "We are better placed than our competitors to emerge stronger from the storms."

He added: "I know there is concern about jobs. But a quarter of the world is in recession. World growth has halved. Exports to Asia have halved.

"In a global economy where capital, inventions and whole industries are mobile as never before, no country and no community is immune from change. No politician can promise there will never be job losses. …