Taxing Day for Blair as Scots Stop to Think Again; ANALYSIS

Daily Mail (London), September 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

Taxing Day for Blair as Scots Stop to Think Again; ANALYSIS


Byline: PAUL EASTHAM

TONY BLAIR tried to apply the kiss of life to his devolution campaign yesterday amid growing signs of rebellion and disarray in Labour ranks.

The Prime Minister insisted 'there was a better way for Britain to be governed' as he urged a vote for a Scottish parliament during his one-day whistlestop tour north of the border.

He dismissed polls showing shrinking support for the parliament having tax-raising powers and declared there was 'nothing to be afraid of other than fear itself'.

But as on his previous visits to Scotland, he looked extremely uncomfortable as he visited Edinburgh and Glasgow in the run-up to Thursday's referendum.

It became clear at every stop that he might win a resounding vote of Yes to the first question, which asks the country's 4million voters whether they 'agree that there should be a Scottish parliament'.

But they seem wary about saying Yes to the second question, whether they 'agree that a Scottish parliament should have tax varying powers'.

A simple majority of voters in favour would trigger the biggest constitutional change for 300 years, and in the case of the second question, hand a new Scottish parliament power to increase their income tax by three pence in the pound. As Mr Blair

fought to win the Scots over, there were ominous signs of revolt from Wales, where a separate referendum next week will ask whether voters want a Welsh Assembly.

Former Labour defence spokesman Denzil Davies, MP for Llanelli, claimed Mr Blair had broken his promise to give the proposed Welsh body power to make a 'bonfire' of 'undemocratic' quangos set up by the Tories.

Sir Ray Powell, Labour MP for Ogmore, said there had been 'threats and abuse' from leading party figures against anti-devolution campaigners. He would be voting No to the 'poorly thought-out' plans.

There was further unease when Chancellor Gordon Brown, who was in Dundee, appeared to concede that the Government's pledge not to raise income tax for five years covered only the Westminster Parliamentary term.

That meant it would guarantee no tax rises only during the first two years of a Scottish parliament, which, if approved, would sit for the first time in 2000. Anti-devolutionists claimed this showed the Prime Minister had 'conceded defeat' in the battle over tax powers.

Mr Blair, who took his wife Cherie with him to Scotland, campaigned for a Yes-Yes vote - in favour of a parliament and tax-varying powers.

He denied a Yes-No vote - in which Scots would endorse a parliament but reject its tax-varying powers - was increasingly likely.

He said the Yes-Yes campaign was 'all part of modernising the constitution of Britain, to bring power closer to people, make sure that Scotland can take the types of decisions it wants to take which affect people in Scotland'.

Dismissing 'the usual Conservative scares' about the tax question, he said: 'The Labour Party is bound by our commitment that for the lifetime of this Parliament we are not going to raise the basic or top rate of tax. …

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