Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

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Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

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Article excerpt

The weekend of 11/12 March is a big one for the Scottish Labour Party, and in more ways than one. Not only are our Labourites in the final stages of defending a very shaky majority in the first-ever by-election to the Scottish Parliament, but they are staging their first annual conference since that Parliament was set up. The conference is being held in Edinburgh's glitzy conference centre, a place of happy memory for most (if not all) Labourites: it was where the results of the devolution referendum were announced. And to add to the "first-ever" list, Tony Blair will be delivering a speech to the Scottish Parliament. No British (or English) prime minister has ever addressed a parliament in Edinburgh.

Blair's speech might be politically important as well as historic. It looks as if the First Minister, Donald Dewar, will need all the support he can get. His problems are many. Beleaguered by the unholy alliance of Cardinal Winning and multimillionaire Brian Souter over Clause 28, beset by grumblings over the paradoxes of the student tuition-fees deal and trying to sit on the row that has developed over the likely cost of the Holyrood Parliament building, Dewar is now being sniped at by some Labour Westminster MPs as an electoral liability. One of them -- Ian Davidson, the MP for Glasgow Pollok -- is clamouring for the Scottish Parliament to be moved to Glasgow.

In fact, our Westminster MPs seem to be growing glummer by the day. The conference has not helped. They resent the way that they have been crowded off the platform and podium by the MSPs. Apart from the cabinet troika of Tony Blair, Alistair Darling and Robin Cook, all the running is being made by smart operators from the Mound: Sarah Boyack, Susan Deacon, Wendy Alexander, Jim Wallace, Donald Dewar himself. Westminster MPs are beginning to grumble (covertly, so far) about the way they are being sidelined by the government and ignored by the Scottish media. …

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