Tony Blair: Brexit represents opportunity for Labour fightback

Tony Blair said Brexit gives Labour the opportunity to win again in Scotland
Tony Blair said Brexit gives Labour the opportunity to win again in Scotland
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Labour slumped to third place in Scottish politics behind the Conservatives because the party “gave up the middle ground”, former prime minister Tony Blair has claimed.

Mr Blair, Labour’s longest serving prime minister, insisted it is a “myth” that Scotland is a left-wing country, saying the reality has “always been much more complicated than that”.

He said Brexit gives the party the opportunity to win again north of the border - if Scottish Labour commits itself to opposing withdrawal.

READ MORE: Independence negotiations ‘tougher than Brexit’

Scottish Conservative support for the UK leaving the European Union is where Ruth Davidson’s party is most vulnerable, Mr Blair argued.

He told Holyrood magazine: “I think what the Brexit thing really does offer us is a huge opportunity because, by the way, the vulnerability of Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives is that they are tied to Theresa May.

“That is a vulnerability, but it’s only a vulnerability you can exploit if you’re prepared to say, ‘We’d stop the thing’. So, you’ve literally got those votes just lying on the table waiting to be taken, you just need to say it.”

The ex-PM was speaking after a number of Labour MPs quit the party for the newly formed Independent Group at Westminster, citing party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to oppose Brexit as one reason for their move.

Mr Blair was UK Labour leader when the party lost power at Holyrood to the SNP in 2007. Since then it has fallen behind the Tories to become the third party in the Scottish Parliament.

He argued that by opposing Brexit, and by fighting the SNP on its record on public services, Labour could win again.

He said: “What is the obvious thing for the Labour Party to do in Scotland right now? The absolute obvious thing, it’s just sitting there, like a great big prize. You become the party that believes in the union, but with max devolution within it. You are pro-Europe, so you fight Brexit.

“Absolutely, you don’t go along with it. And you’re the party of economic and social reform where, frankly, around public services and other things, the SNP are vulnerable. If you put those three things together, then you could win.

“The question the Labour Party should ask itself in Scotland is how do you get beaten by the Tories? Why is that happening? It’s happening because it’s the politics that Ruth Davidson represents. That’s why it’s happening. You gave up the middle ground.”

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “Our common sense policies will end the cruel austerity the Tories have inflicted on our communities, where the only growth has been to levels of poverty, homelessness, inequality and foodbanks.

“Ruth Davidson’s Tories brought us the bedroom tax, the two-child cap and rape clause, and she has supported May’s Brexit shambles at every turn. They oppose everything that we stand for.

“We will build an economy that works for everyone, where the wealthiest pay more so we can invest in jobs, schools and hospitals, end low pay and the exploitation of workers, and put people before profit by bringing public services like buses and trains into public ownership.

“The Tories not only can’t do any of this, they don’t want to.”