Blair Walks the Tax Tightrope; WITH VOTERS SEEMINGLY NECK-AND-NECK OVER A TAX-RAISING SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT, THE PRIME MINISTER BIDS TO REVIVE THE YES-YES CAMPAIGN
Byline: CHRIS DEERIN;WILLIAM CLARK
PRIME Minister Tony Blair yesterday fought to calm last-minute devolution nerves as he faced warnings from his most prominent supporters that voting for a tax-raising Scottish parliament was now neck and neck.
The Labour leader spent his first full day on the devolution trial trying to gloss over the worries of increasingly vocal opponents who claim a Yes-Yes vote will spell financial gloom for the Scottish worker.
But in what seemed a lacklustre meet-the-people walkabout and a question and answer session, Mr Blair called on the voters to trust him to deliver a fair deal for Scotland.
And borrowing a line from Franklin D Roosevelt, former President of the United States, he said: 'You have nothing to fear but fear itself'.
But in an break with the previous unity of the Yes-Yes campaign, SNP leader Alex Salmond dealt an blow to his own side by declaring the campaign virtually neck and
neck. He confirmed the best hopes of No campaigners on the possibility of losing tax powers for a Scottish parliament by saying exclusively to the Scottish Daily Mail: 'I believe it will be 55 per cent to 45 per cent Yes of the second question. I have always thought that it would be tight.' Earlier, Mr Blair had recognised the fragility of the Yes-Yes vote when he appealed to voters not to be sceptical. In what seemed a direct appeal to people's emotions he said: 'There is nothing to be frightened of in this change. It is a good change, it's the right change. It's the right change for the times in which we live, not just good for Scotland but good for business also.' He added: 'The polling is still very, very clear - there is massive support for a Scottish parliament. There is less support on the second question, but it is still very considerable indeed and it has a very considerable lead.'
But these words of comfort were contradicted by Scottish Office Minister Brian Wilson who entertained the possible dangers ahead and underlined the potential for disaster of a Yes-No vote.
The onetime No campaigner gave the starkest warning yet saying if the tax powers were lost 'it would destabilise the Constitutional settlement.' He said: 'It would now be perverse to reject
Poll shows split fears it since that outcome would play into the hands of those whose politics thrive on blaming Westminster for everything.' He warned that if the second question was lost it could wreck the stability of the Scottish parliament by depriving it of a 'crucial safeguard' within the United Kingdom framework.
Mr Blair's Welsh devolution hopes were dealt a hefty blow when three veteran Welsh Labour MPs broke ranks to back the No vote. A Welsh debacle is now on the cards after the devastating decision to go public by Sir Ray Powell, Llew Smith and former Treasury Minister Denzil Davies.
Sir Ray echoed Scottish Conservative attacks on the Scotland deal by saying the Welsh plans were 'just a series of poorly thought out promises which can be broken at any time.' Brian Monteith, co-ordinator of the Think Twice campaign in Scotland said: 'The Welsh rebellion is the latest straw in the wind that tells us we have the Government on the run on the referendum tax powers.
'Every Scottish poll indicates we are making the running and the Labour vote is crumbling towards ''don't know'', especially on the tax powers.' 'The rotten thing from Labour's viewpoint is that Blair appears to be conceding and many feel he does not care. There are still Labour activists who feel he would welcome defeat.' To cap a shaky day for the Yes camp, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown got his sums mixed up over how long his tax freeze would last. His confusion showed when he pledged no tax increases for five years. …