Tony Blair memoirs: 'I was never convinced on devolution - it was dangerous'

TONY Blair has admitted he was "never a passionate believer" in devolution and that he always thought creating a Scottish parliament was a dangerous path to follow.

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In his memoirs, the former prime minister revealed his inner doubts about the constitutional upheaval that was ushered in by New Labour and cast some light on his difficult relationship with Scotland and the "prickly" Scots.

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Even though Mr Blair has been regarded as one of the great architects of devolution and staunchly defended it in public, it was not a development with which he was particularly comfortable.

His autobiography, A Journey, disclosed the private doubts he harboured about devolution at a time when, publicly, he was one of its strongest advocates.

And in an unexpected admission, Mr Blair conceded his relative unpopularity in Scotland compared with Gordon Brown could have led to Labour losing the 2007 Scottish parliamentary election to Alex Salmond's SNP.

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The former PM admitted he thought the road to devolution was a "dangerous" one, because it would bolster Nationalist feelings. But, given the political situation at the time and the strength of Scottish public opinion, he felt it was an "inevitable" path to travel along.

"I was never a passionate devolutionist," he confessed. "It is a dangerous game to play. You can never be sure where nationalist sentiment ends and separatist sentiment begins. I supported the UK, distrusted nationalism as a concept, and looked at the history books and worried whether we could get it through.

"However, though not passionate about it, I thought it inevitable."

The views in the book contrast with those he expressed when he argued for a Scottish parliament as one of New Labour's most important policies.

For example, in October 1999, at the Labour Party conference, Mr Blair predicted Scottish devolution would save the UK by protecting the Union.

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"I tell you, devolution will be and is the salvation of the UK," he said."And the UK and Scotland's role in it is in the interest of Scotland and England, and every part of the UK."

Looking back on those times, Mr Blair said that, despite his misgivings, devolution was an option that would make the Scots believe there was a way forward other than "separation".

But he struggled to engage with the rising tide of nationalism and the desire for change, remarking that the "Scots were notoriously prickly about the whole business".

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Despite being the son of a Scot and having spent much of his young life growing up in Scotland, he felt alienated.

"I always thought it extraordinary; I was born in Scotland, my parents were raised there, we had lived there, I had been to school there, yet somehow - and this is the problem with nationalist sentiment unleashed - they (notice the 'they'] contrived me to feel alien."

Banner headlines proclaiming Mr Blair had compared Holy-rood to a parish council were cited by the former prime minister as an example of the egg-shells he felt he had to tread on.

"Language had to be used carefully," he recalled. "They were incredibly sensitive to the fear that the Scottish Parliament would turn out to be a local council (which it never was]. The Scottish media were a PhD dissertation about chippiness all unto themselves.

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"Funnily enough, I quite liked them. They were hard to deal with, but it was sort of fun at the same time."

His difficult relationship with Scotland continued long after the devolved institutions were up and running. Recognition of this came with his admission that Labour could have won the last Scottish election if he had stood aside to make way for Gordon Brown before the poll.

Mr Blair made much of his differences with Mr Brown in his book, but he did concede that his successor would have been a more popular PM in Scotland.

"I knew some people, with understandable feeling, thought I was being selfish in staying on," he said. "With a new leader, we could have done better, and in particular it is possible with Gordon we would have won in Scotland.

"Jack McConnell (then First Minister] was loyal and decent enough to deny this to me, but I wasn't sure he meant it."