Scottish independence: Tony Blair joins ‘No’ campaign and defends devolution

Tony Blair: Defended devolution as he backed 'No' campaign
Tony Blair: Defended devolution as he backed 'No' campaign
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FORMER Prime Minister Tony Blair has committed himself to helping the keep the UK together in the campaign for the 2014 referendum.

• Former Prime Minister defended devolution and denied it had spurred on Alex Salmond and the push for independence

• ‘Inevitable’ that nationalism in Scotland would ‘build to a head’ whether devolution had happened or not

• Mr Blair also warned that talk of Britain leaving the EU was ‘dangerous’

Speaking at the Press Gallery lunch in Westminster Mr Blair also defended his devolution and denied that it had been a spur to Alex Salmond and the push for independence.

Asked if devolution had been a spur to the SNP’s drive to independence, he said: “No, I don’t believe it’s the spur to independence. If we had not done devolution, you would just have had this debate a lot earlier. It’s inevitable that it happens and you have just got to take it on and win it, which I hope and believe we will.

“Devolution is a sensible way of keeping all the strengths of the United Kingdom while allowing decisions that really should be taken close to the people are taken close to the people.

He went on: “Devolution is a debate that went on since Gladstone’s time. We resolved it by managing to have a referendum first on the principle and then do the legislation. We did it. It was the right thing to do. If we had not done it, we would have had huge pressure for change building up in Scotland. There was always going to be a period of time when the Nationalists came forward. We’re going to have to take their argument on and beat them; I think we can.”

He said that it was “inevitable” that Nationalism in Scotland “would build to a head” whether devolution had happened or not, but insisted that devolution has made it “easier” to fight the campaign to keep the UK together.

With many in the Better Together campaign hoping to see the former Prime Minister who went to school in Edinburgh and won three elections for Labour, take a major role in the campaign, Mr Blair said: “ I’m very happy to play a part in it but it’s up to those who are going to organise the campaign. “

The former Prime Minister used his address to the Press Gallery to warn that that talk of Britain leaving the EU is “dangerous” and called on the country to take the lead in reforming it.

He also told politicians that they “should not scapegoat immigrants for the problems of the country” and said most of the people who have come to the UK have “assimilated very well.”

Welcoming reports that the former Prime Minister is “happy to play a part” in the No campaign in the autumn 2014 referendum on an independent Scotland, the Scottish National Party said that it was his “illegal” war in Iraq which demonstrated the need for the Scottish Parliament to have the powers of independence.

Kenneth Gibson SNP MSP said: “Tony Blair’s cack-handed intervention at Westminster that he will ‘play a part’ in the ‘No’ campaign is an early Christmas present for ‘Yes’.

“Margaret Thatcher’s visit to Scotland in the final stages of the Scottish Parliament referendum in 1997, urging Scots to vote ‘No’, was a big boost to the ‘Yes’ campaign at that time. It was her unfair and divisive policies - imposed on Scotland with no mandate from the people - which made it clear that devolution was essential.

“Similarly, Tony Blair dragging the country into an illegal, immoral war in Iraq on the basis of false pretences was a compelling illustration of the need for our parliament to have the full powers of independence.”

But Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran said the former Prime Minister would be an asset to the campaign.

She said: “We need a vibrant debate on Scotland’s future that includes many views and voices. Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for ten years and led the Labour Party when we won three UK General elections in Scotland; if he wants to participate in the debate on the future of our country that is to be welcomed.”