Why Tony Blair says Scottish independence is ‘further away than ever'

Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, said people were nervous of further constitutional change

The fall-out from Brexit means Scottish independence is "further away than ever", Sir Tony Blair has said.

The former prime minister said the impacts of the EU exit had made people "nervous" of further constitutional change.

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"Whatever people think about Brexit, even if they’re ambivalent about it – and I obviously think it’s a terrible thing, but even if you’re ambivalent about it – you’re kind of thinking, this is a huge mess,” he told Holyrood magazine. “And therefore, do we really want to gamble with the Scottish economy that is, by the way, much, much more linked to the British economy than the British economy is to Europe? Do we want to gamble with that?"

Tony Blair. Stefan Rousseau/PATony Blair. Stefan Rousseau/PA
Tony Blair. Stefan Rousseau/PA

Elsewhere, Sir Tony said devolution had “worked” because Scotland was still part of the UK.

He said: "I do reflect on devolution a lot, and occasionally do think what should we or could we have done differently. But on the whole I’m still of the same opinion as I was back then, which is that devolution had to happen, otherwise you’d leave Scottish people with the choice of status quo or independence, and Scotland is still part of the UK, which was part of the design – so devolution has worked, as far as I am concerned."

Sir Tony was the prime minister who legislated for the Scottish Parliament after a referendum in 1997.

Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader, insisted Labour in Scotland “will be mortified that Tony Blair, the architect of the Iraq War and NHS privatisation, has reared his head in the middle of an election campaign”.

He said: “The most recent opinion polls put independence slightly ahead or slightly behind support for continued Westminster control and, with Labour refusing to reverse some of the most damaging Tory policies such as austerity, Brexit and cuts to child benefits, it will no doubt continue to rise under a Keir Starmer government.”

The SNP will launch its general election manifesto later this week, with John Swinney, the First Minister and party leader, saying independence will be “page one, line one”. However, Brian Cox, the actor and independence supporter, raised concerns the SNP “could be backing away from the notion of independence”.

Appearing on BBC One’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, the 78-year-old Succession star said: “I don’t know if Scotland has backed off, but I think that it’s something that worries me, because I still believe in independence.”

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Mr Cox added: “I do believe we need a new kind system. I don’t believe in the United Kingdom – I believe that we should have a sort of united federation with these islands, that each … country should be independent, but come together to support the whole, instead of things being dictated, as we find in Scotland, on our behalf, that we have very little say.”

Speaking ahead of the manifesto launch, Mr Swinney said it would be the only “truly left-of-centre” offering to voters.

He said: “Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are wedded to the same Thatcherite economic policies, offering only cuts, austerity and stagnation. The bold and positive vision we will publish will stand in stark contrast to the dismal Labour and Tory offerings promising more of the same.

“We are the only major party in this election publishing a truly left-of-centre manifesto – and that is exactly why we are feeling so positive about this campaign. That centre-left political tradition is where the vast majority of people in Scotland sit.

“Our manifesto is one that takes the traditional left-of-centre politics of our country and applies it to the challenges we face now, in the modern world. Labour under Keir Starmer has run a mile from the founding values of his own party – and abandoned the majority of voters in Scotland in the process.”

But former first minister Alex Salmond said his Alba Party would be the only one to include a strategy for delivering Scottish independence in its election manifesto – as he claimed the approach taken by his old party on the issue was a mystery that even Sherlock Holmes could not solve.

Mr Salmond hit out at the SNP as he insisted Alba had “emerged as the only party seeking an independence mandate at each and every election”.

Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, said the momentum was with his party. “This election is an opportunity for change that Scots cannot afford to miss and it is clear that the momentum is with Scottish Labour,” he said. “People are tired of this rotten Tory government and are crying out for change.”

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He added: “A Labour government with Scottish Labour MPs at its heart will deliver a pay rise for the 200,000 lowest paid Scots, 160,000 more NHS appointments to tackle waiting times and publicly owned energy headquartered in Scotland to deliver jobs and cut bills.”

Sir Tony, who left office in 2007, also told Holyrood magazine UK politics was stuck in a "20th-century debate".

He said: "In the UK we’re still having a late 20th-century debate in politics in the third decade of the 21st century and that’s basically around the margins of tax and spending. This is like having a debate in the 1830s about elements of land tenure when you’re living through and about to accelerate through a massive change in the move from agriculture to the city and the industrial revolution.

"The latest developments in artificial intelligence are a revolution on top of a revolution. For example, we’ve got a huge challenge in this country to stay ahead in artificial intelligence and Scotland’s got some really good capabilities in that field. But to do this, you’ve got to really focus on it, you’ve got to say 'what do we need in order to do this?', but that’s not even part of the debate in the UK really right now. And yet if you look at what artificial intelligence can do for health service delivery, for instance, it’s just enormous and it will become more so. The question is how do you get ahead of that?"

Sir Tony continued: "My plea to the Labour Party is to say, we’ve got to reimagine the modern progressive mission around technology, the capabilities of technology, and the risks of technology, because we’re going to live through the most revolutionary period in the real world since the 19th century in terms of the changes that are going to happen, and the question is which party best understands those changes and can harness them properly. And in education and healthcare and law and order, there are massive opportunities. That’s why I always say to people, this should be a really exciting time to be in government."



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