Union rallying cry as Brown bids to end referendum fiasco

GORDON Brown yesterday put himself at the forefront of the battle to save the Union, as he issued a rallying cry for people to rise against the "separatist" forces of the SNP.

The Prime Minister said he would spend the "next few months" making the case for the preservation of the United Kingdom. He said others across the political spectrum who shared his views "should now be out there defending the Union".

His comments came as an opinion poll found only 31 per cent of Scots would vote for independence, while 43 per cent would vote against.

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Mr Brown's intervention followed a torrid fortnight for Wendy Alexander, the Labour leader in Scotland, who has performed a series of U-turns on her support for an independence referendum and the timing of any vote.

Labour MSPs, at a meeting on Tuesday, ditched her pledge that the party would not stand in the way of an SNP bill, which has yet to be tabled at Holyrood, to hold a referendum in 2010.

Labour also backtracked from Ms Alexander's infamous call to the SNP to "bring it on" and hold a vote as soon as possible.

Mr Brown was asked yesterday, at his monthly news conference at No 10, whether Scots should place their faith in him – and his long-standing defence of the Union – or Ms Alexander.

He sidestepped the question, saying there were no plans on the table, either at Westminster or Holyrood, for a referendum. But he admitted an "intense debate" was taking place, creating "uncertainty" and, leading many people to argue that "action should be taken".

He went on: "Now that we know that the Scottish National Party, at some point, want to break up the United Kingdom, and now that we know there is also an English lobby for a separate English parliament, the case for the United Kingdom and the integration of it has got to be put, and that is what I intend to do over the next few months."

Mr Brown called for attention to be focused on the "economic and social and political case" in favour of the 300-year-old Union. He said: "It's very important to recognise that the case for the Union must now be put."

Asked how he would rate Ms Alexander's performance over the past fortnight, he said: "I said last Saturday that she had been an excellent leader of the Labour party in Scotland."

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He went on: "What I want to say is that all those people who are unionists, who believe the Union is worth defending, should now be out there, defending the Union and realising that there are people whose only mission in life is to break up the Union. I'm going to defend the Union. I believe it's good for Britain. I believe it's good for the people of Britain."

But his call was mocked by the SNP.

A spokesman for Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said: "If Gordon Brown wants to campaign for his preferred solution, he should equally be prepared to allow the people to decide in a referendum at the conclusion of the campaign.

"There is no point in having a campaign if you are running away from a referendum."

Ms Alexander's "bring it on" call was seen as a way of "shooting the SNP's fox" but many in the Labour Party feared any referendum would become a popularity contest between Mr Brown and Mr Salmond.


FEWER than one in three Scots back independence, according to a new poll.

Asked whether Scotland should become independent, 31 per cent said Yes, 43 per cent said No and 26 per cent said they did not know.

The telephone survey of 1,051 adults, for STV's Politics Now programme, is in contrast to a newspaper poll last month that found marginally greater support for independence than for staying in the UK.

The STV poll also found that if a multi-option referendum was held, 50.1 per cent would back remaining within the UK but with more powers for the Scottish Parliament. Only 25.1 per cent would back independence, while 24.8 per cent wanted no change.

Second preferences were not counted in the poll.