Alistair Darling will argue that only Labour has a record of reducing poverty in government when he joins the general election fray today on the anniversary of Labour’s 1997 landslide.
Campaigning in Edinburgh to try to preserve Labour’s last remaining Westminster seat in Scotland, Mr Darling will mount a strong defence of the party’s 13 years in power and call on the SNP to drop plans for a second independence referendum.
Mr Darling will meet campaign activists in Edinburgh South with Labour MP Ian Murray and highlight Labour’s achievements, including lifting 120,000 children out of poverty in Scotland, introducing the national minimum wage and introducing tax credits for the low paid.
In an interview on the 20th anniversary of his landslide victory, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said Labour “can win at any point” if it commits to returning to power, and said he finds it difficult to be a figure of hatred on the left.
The UK Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been one Mr Blair’s most vocal critics, did not offer a message to mark the anniversary.
Yesterday Michael Forsyth, the Conservative Scottish Secretary who was defeated in his party’s 1997 wipeout in Scotland, warned that Labour faced their own long journey through the political wilderness.
A poll yesterday revealed the scale of Labour’s challenge in Scotland, with an ORB survey putting the party in third place on 16 per cent, behind the Tories on 27 per cent and well behind the SNP.
Mr Darling said: “Twenty years ago today a Labour government that transformed the lives of people in Scotland and right across the UK was elected. We delivered on our promises, by lifting millions of families out of poverty, investing in schools and hospitals, and introducing a National Minimum Wage.
“Labour’s proud record shows what can be achieved when a government focuses on the day job.
“The priority of a Labour government is always to grow the economy, create jobs, lift people out of poverty and give everybody a fair chance in life, not seeking to divide the country.”
Mr Darling, who led the Better Together cross-party Unionist campaign in the 2014 independence referendum, claimed Scots do not want more “divisive” constitutional debate.
He added: “In 2014 we were told that the referendum was a once in a generation event, and Scotland voted No by a clear margin. That’s the mandate the Nationalists must respect.
“Scotland is divided enough. The majority of people in Scotland believe that together we’re stronger by remaining in the UK.”
Mr Murray said 13 years of Labour government “transformed the lives of people from ordinary backgrounds” like him.
He said: “We invested in schools and hospitals, delivered a boost to low-paid workers, and gave our young people a fair chance in life.
“That’s what our government should be focused on, not trying to force another divisive referendum that most Scots don’t want.”
However, polling suggested the public believe the SNP has the right to call a second independence referendum if it wins the general election in Scotland on 8 June.
A Panelbase poll found that 52 per cent of voters think Theresa May should not stand in the way if the SNP win the largest number of seats in Scotland with a manifesto commitment on holding a second referendum.
The Prime Minister has ruled out a referendum until the Brexit process is completed and the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU are known.
On a campaign stop in Aberdeenshire on Saturday, Mrs May said she would not change her view regardless of the general election result in Scotland.
The Panelbase poll put support for independence at 45 per cent, the same as in the 2014 referendum. However, when voters were asked to pick their preferred constitutional outcome for Scotland, the UK and the EU, a slim majority chose independence in some form.
The survey found 41 per cent want independence for Scotland inside the EU while 10 per cent support Scottish independence outside the EU.
Some 48 per cent said they would prefer Scotland to remain inside the UK but outside the EU. Panelbase polled 1,029 adult voters resident in Scotland between 18 and 21 April.
Scottish finance Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP said: “There is already a cast-iron democratic mandate for giving Scotland a choice on its future - and this poll follows other recent findings showing that people across Scotland think Theresa May would be wrong to try and block a referendum indefinitely.
“Support for independence in Scotland has remained strong.
“The question the Tories don’t want to answer is this - if they lose this election in Scotland, will they drop their undemocratic bid to stand in the way of people choosing their own future?”
Scottish Conservative candidate for Edinburgh South West Miles Briggs said that a Labour victory would send the UK into chaos.
He said: “Labour may think wheeling out Alistair Darling will convince voters they are strong on Scotland’s place in the union.
“But they know Jeremy Corbyn is itching to do a deal with the SNP that would sell pro-UK Scots down the river.
“Darling may want another referendum ruled out, but he’s trumped by his leader who says it’s ‘absolutely fine’.”