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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 April 2007, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
New Labour woes
On Sunday 01 April Andrew Marr interviewed Douglas Alexander MP, Secretary of State for Scotland

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Douglas Alexander MP
Douglas Alexander MP, Secretary of State for Scotland

ANDREW MARR: So, what of the party which, for the first time in 50 years faces the prospect of losing in Scotland.

Douglas Alexander is a Labour MP, a Scot, Transport Secretary, Scottish Secretary and close friend of our likely next Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and he is with me now.



ANDREW MARR: You're losing, and you're in a mess in Scotland!

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well in the space of the last month alone support for independence has almost halved. It's down to about 25%.

I would argue we're winning the argument about independence but we have a competitive fight on our hands.

That's why in the month ahead we're determined to focus our campaign, not simply on the positive agenda that we want to offer for the third term of our Scottish Parliament.

But also to highlight the very significant strategic choice that Alex Salmond made just last week when he addressed the Scottish National Party Conference.

Where he could have said actually, we're putting independence on the back burner, we want to run the devolved parliament well. And instead he set out an agenda both for tax rises and for constitutional turmoil. With respect that's not what I believe the Scottish people want or need.

ANDREW MARR: Mm. So you basically accept the message of all these polls, there have been a slew of them now, puts you behind?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: I've always accepted that we face a challenge both after a third term at Westminster, looking for a third term at Holyrood. This is a very competitive race.

ANDREW MARR: Among the possibilities being discussed in today's papers are that the Labour Party in Scotland could end up relying on Conservative support, in the Scottish Parliament. Is that remotely plausible?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: I can't say I would give it much credence from what I saw in the papers today. I think the serious point that all parties are inevitably going to say at this stage is our entire focus is on getting the maximum number of seats, and the maximum number of votes come in May the 3rd.

ANDREW MARR: So how did it come to this? Because the Scottish Parliament was intended among many other things, to put a cap on the SNP, keep them down, change the Scottish political scene, and they have revived hugely.

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well because I think that the SNP are working hard to suggest that this is an election of complaint without consequence, and inevitably what it's come to is a position Labour's never been in before - you said the last 50 years - in our entire history we've never been in a position where we've got a third term at Westminster, looking for a third term at Holyrood. Inevitably there are going to be disappointments, frustrations.

What we need to make clear to the Scottish people is that you can't have the SNP without having independence, and you can't have independence without having cost.

ANDREW MARR: When you said it's complaint without consequence, what is it complaint against? Is it complaint against Tony Blair, it is complaint against Iraq, is it complaint against a too-timid agenda in the Scottish Parliament?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well, I think different people have different concerns. As I say I think it's inevitable notwithstanding all the progress we've made, just look out the window, you're looking at a city with virtually full employment these days.

But people will very quickly bank those successes and say, well, maybe we should look at something different, that's inherent in the democratic process. I don't really think the attribution of individual responsibility is what Labour's about. What Labour's about is working together to win support.

ANDREW MARR: What would it say for your friend and mentor Gordon Brown if Labour got hammered on his back door?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well, obviously Gordon is working along with the rest of us in Labour to ensure that that doesn't happen. But inevitably we've seen headlines in recent months which none of us in the party would have chosen, that's why we're working so hard between now and May 3rd to get people to realise that this is not simply a risk-free punt against the Labour party, but actually has very real consequences both in terms of personal tax bills. I mean we published a pretty comprehensive document the week before last saying that Scottish families could expect to pay about 5,000 more tax.

We've had really no response from the Scottish National Party at all to that document. And in that sense we'll be setting out that message at the same time as talking about an agenda for things like skills academies, a full employment agency, the kind of progress we need to see in Scotland in the years ahead. And let's be clear, we're very proud of the progress the Scottish Parliament's made in the last eight years, that's why for example on child poverty, falling further and faster in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

ANDREW MARR: The message out there doesn't seem to be quite the same. You're of a generation of, the same generation of people like David Milliband. There's been some strange things said about David Milliband as he kind of wonders about what to do. Margaret Beckett said he's be a human sacrifice if he took on Gordon Brown. Would you associate yourself with that kind of language, or would it be a perfectly reasonable thing to happen?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: No, obviously David is one of my oldest friends in politics, I actually knew David before I knew either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.

But I also, that's why I believe David when he says he thinks Gordon would be an outstanding Prime Minister, and in that sense Margaret's entitled to her view, all Cabinet members and other members of the party are. But I think David's made his view pretty clear, and I think we'll see what happens in terms of the leadership contest when it arises.

ANDREW MARR: There's suggestions that Charles Clarke is thinking seriously about standing against Gordon Brown. On the sort of, the basic question of would it be better to have a serious contest, would it be difficult for Gordon Brown to, as it were, have to have a contest with nobody actually to hit? Which side do you come down on?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: I think I come down on the former with one important caveat, and that's that I'd welcome the prospect of a contest if people want to come forward I think they should feel entitled to do so.

But I do think everybody who puts themselves forward has a responsibility to offer a positive and constructive agenda. And I certainly hope that's what prospective candidates are thinking about when they consider putting their names forward.

ANDREW MARR: One of the issues that's been discussed a lot here in Scotland is the idea of a referendum on independence. And some of the columnists are saying actually, what Gordon Brown should be doing, what Labour should be doing, is offering, promising their own referendum. Because Alex Salmond was right, the idea of a referendum is hugely popular here.

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: But actually it's not our politics. I mean, Alex gets up every morning and want to take Scotland out of the British state. He's a nationalist, that's what he's for. What gets me out of bed in the morning is not ending the border with England, but ending poverty.

And in that sense I don't think we should succumb to a different kind of politics which says borders matter more than giving kids the best chance and best start in life. That would be his politics, not ours.

ANDREW MARR: Would this not be a good thing to do to try and resolve the question, because it's out there, the question of Scotland's survival.

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well there's a very obvious way that people can avoid the issue of a referendum arising, and that's to vote Labour on May 3rd.

ANDREW MARR: Mm. Let's turn to some other issues. Transport Secretary. As we confront this terrible Iranian hostage crisis, one of the things that's been talked about is some kind of pan-European ban on flights in and out of Tehran. Would you support that?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well across government we've been very careful in saying there should be graduated step-by-step response to this. We welcome the international support that Margaret, the Foreign Secretary, secured at Brennan of the European Foreign Ministers.

We welcome the international signs of support that were comments that you've mentioned from George Bush last night, there's also been statements from the United Nations Security Council. But I think really we've got a twin-track approach, on one hand working closely with international partners to make clear the strength of international feeling, that these British service personnel should be returned. And on the other hand exploring the potential for dialogue with the Iranians.

ANDREW MARR: But, given all the talking going on, and the absolute lack of any movement from what we can see in Tehran, is that not the kind of thing that would show that we were serious?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: I don't think it's particularly wise or judicious in what's inevitably a sensitive situation, to anticipate further actions on either side. I think the responsible course is to pursue the diplomatic track that we're pursuing both internationally, and as I say exploring the scope for dialogue with the Iranians.

ANDREW MARR: So you'd rule out going further in terms of sanctions, going further in terms of air sanctions?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: Well with respect, you can ask me the question in three different forms, but the answer stays the same. The responsible way forward I think is to continue often the unglamorous but important and quiet diplomatic work, to see if we can get our service personnel home.

ANDREW MARR: If you are Transport Secretary in three or four years' time and you may very well hope to be something else in three or four years' time, but if you're Transport Secretary will there be road pricing in most British cities?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: The position is exactly the same as the first day I became Transport Secretary where we said we want to have a national debate ahead of any decision on national road pricing.

But we want that debate to be informed by the facts. Now we want to have a number of regional pilots where we can examine that, we'll be receiving bids from some cities round about July of this year. We'll reach a decision towards the end of this year, and we would expect to be able to support those pilots which will be local schemes to tackle local congestion over the course of the next four to five years.

ANDREW MARR: And finally, just returning the great Iran crisis, George Bush's comments helpful?

DOUGLAS ALEXANDER: I think they were actually quite carefully calibrated and I think everybody on the international scene recognises that a balance has to be struck between making clear the view of the international community, the growing view of the international community, and on the other hand allowing the space for those conversations to take place.

ANDREW MARR: All right, Douglas Alexander thank you very much indeed for joining us.



NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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