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BBC Scotland Westminster correspondent David Porter
"Mr Dewar's job at the conference was to give a report on devolution"
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First Minister Donald Dewar
"We will come through the storms - government is hard"
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banner Monday, 25 September, 2000, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Devolution delivering: Dewar
Donald Dewar
Donald Dewar received a warm welcome
Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar has used his Labour Party conference speech to praise devolution and attack the Scottish National Party.

He also told delegates in Brighton that the UK Chancellor, Gordon Brown, was a "proven character of worth and has shown his expertise".

Mr Dewar backed the under-fire politician and said that through his solid economic policies, prosperity had been brought to Scotland in the form of low unemployment and a thriving manufacturing industry.

But the bulk of the Glasgow MP's 15-minute address was used to criticise Scottish nationalists.

We stood firm in the blizzard. We won. In Scotland we did not keep the clause, Section 28 is no more

Donald Dewar
He said: "The opposition lives on opportunism. The retired leader of the SNP has given his party a massive vote of confidence by walking out at the age of 40-something.

"At their conference the other day their venerable president, Winnie Ewing, flanked on the platform by every one of the party's Westminster candidates with beguiling honesty told the conference: 'You will be wondering who these people are.'

"Let me tell them their problem of anonymity will not be solved by the next election.

"The nationalists have a new leader chosen from a crowded field of two.

Co-operation 'key'

"A poll was held at the height of the campaign and the opinions of a puzzled electorate sought.

"Ten per cent wanted neither of the candidates; 57% had no opinion on the matter. The polls show that support for breaking up Britain is crumbling - supported now by less than one in four. What a welcome to their new leader."

Mr Dewar, who is back at work after three months away recovering from major heart surgery, said that in Scotland the "good news is that devolution is delivering - Labour is delivering".

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown: Rough few weeks
The key to the Scottish Parliament's survival had been co-operation and support from Westminster colleagues, in Whitehall and throughout Scotland.

"We want to - and recognise that it is essential to - work in partnership and coalition with the rest of this UK," added Mr Dewar.

He recalled how proud he had been that Section 28 was abolished.

"We faced unprecedented pressures - a well-funded campaign, hostility built sometimes on malice, more often influenced by nameless unjustified fears and sometimes built on deep-dyed prejudice.

"We stood firm in the blizzard. We won. In Scotland we did not keep the clause, Section 28 is no more," said Mr Dewar.

Tories targeted

He targeted the Tory party saying that with "their populist lurch to the right, their rejection of any sort of engagement in Europe, their knee-jerk reaction to the fuel blockade - how could these men hope to run the country?"

The chancellor, who also addressed the conference on Monday, faces growing pressure to give more money to pensioners and to cut tax on fuel.

Earlier in the day, Mr Dewar said the Labour Party had undoubtedly paid for the "totally unexpected" public reaction to the fuel crisis, but he was confident of the future and another Labour election win.

Core Labour supporters are still furious at the 75p increase Mr Brown gave pensioners this year and the issue could turn into the next crisis for the government.

Delegates and key unions are piling pressure on the government to restore the link between pensions and average earnings, which was once a proud Labour policy.

Mr Dewar said it was absolutely right that the country's poorest pensioners were helped.

But he added: "In a few years time I shall be drawing the old age pension. If you spend a lot of the money available marginally improving my income at the expense of my poor constituents then that will be a very big tactical and moral mistake."

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See also:

24 Sep 00 | Labour
Brown faces pensions anger
24 Sep 00 | Labour
Blair comes out fighting
23 Sep 00 | Labour
Brighton may rock Labour
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