'A more confident Tony Blair might not have delivered devolution'

Tony Blair - "never a passionate devolutionist"
Tony Blair - "never a passionate devolutionist"
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DEVOLUTION might never have happened if Tony Blair had been more confident about his relationship with Scotland, Alex Salmond’s former spin doctor has claimed.

Kevin Pringle said the former Prime Minister never liked the policy and if he had decided not to create the Scottish Parliament he might have “got away with it” thanks to public cynicism about all politicians.

When Mr Blair led Labour to power in 1997 it was with a pledge to implement devolution. A referendum was held the same year and the parliament was elected in 1999.

But speaking at an event in Edinburgh University’s business school to mark the publication of a new assessment of New Labour, Mr Pringle said despite being born and educated in the Capital, Mr Blair had had “a very, very poor touch” in Scotland.

Every visit north of the border seemed to involve comments which went down badly, including an apparent likening of the Scottish Parliament’s proposed tax powers to those of an English parish council.

“Notwithstanding the strength of the Labour Party in Scotland, when he came to Scotland he just wasn’t very good and he was a bit of a gift to the SNP. If Blair had had a bit more confidence and more understanding of Scotland, he might have tried to go his own way in terms of devolution policy.

Mr Pringle said Blair had inherited the policy from his predecessor as Labour leader, the late John Smith, and a blueprint for how a parliament would work from the cross-party Scottish Constitutional Convention.

“He said himself he was never a passionate devolutionist and believed it was ‘a dangerous game to play’.

“If Blair had had a bit more confidence about his own view of Scotland and what he might want to achieve I think he might have had a second thought about a Scottish Parliament.

“If he had come in and said ‘I understand the democratic aspiration but there’s a massive job of work where to rebuild the public services across the UK, we’re not abandoning it but leaving it to another day’ and so on he might just possibly have got away with it. By the time we got to the millennium there was a degree of cynicism about all politicians, sort of ‘a plague on all your houses’. Maybe the day of the Scottish Parliament might not have dawned.”