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Thursday, November 12, 1998 Published at 17:54 GMT

UK Politics

Blair in union plea to Scotland

The prime minister has made an impassioned appeal to Scotland to turn its back on independence and stay in the UK.

Political Correspondent John Pienaar reports from Glasgow
Tony Blair mounted a scathing attack on the Scottish Nationalists at the start of a two-day visit north of the border.

By staying together, both Scotland and England would benefit, he argued, and Britain will have "lit a beacon" for constitutional reform around the world.

[ image: You're better off with us, Tony Blair insists]
You're better off with us, Tony Blair insists
Mr Blair used his keynote speech to rally his party in Scotland, focusing solely on the question of independence. He made no reference to his latest trouble - accusations that he has become a political control-freak.

The prime minister told the audience at Glasgow's Strathclyde University that nationalists argue Scotland is diminished by its links with the rest of Britain. In fact, it was strengthened, he believed.

"I sometimes feel the nationalists must be virtually the only people who look wistfully back to the 1980s," he said. "Because then they can argue against the old centralised unreformed Britain, rather than the new Britain that's being forged today."

He denied the government's stance was the same as that of the Conservatives, who argued for the status quo, while Labour had delivered devolution.

'Spending on embassies' warning

What Labour favoured was a new partnership for the next century which made both England and Scotland stronger. Each was weaker apart, he insisted.

And stressing the National in the Health Service, he highlighted the £28bn over three years due to be spent in Scotland's hospitals and schools.

That sum could not be invested by nationalists, who, he said, would invest in new government instead.

"Scottish embassies coming before Scottish hospitals, Scottish consulates before Scottish clinics," he warned, condemning their view as a 19th century attitude.

It was the pooling of risks that made it possible for the stronger to help the weaker, Mr Blair argued.

"We gain from our inter-dependence," he said, stressing Labour's child economic reforms aimed at families, pensioners, the unemployed and disabled.

'Opportunity knocks'

On economics, he said the bonds between Scottish and English economies would become stronger and provide stability.

"Let those who oppose us come and argue their case as to why they believe that that separation is better than what we offer today but let us also reflect on the opportunity we have," he said.

Some things - such as hospitals and schools - should be run locally and others - such as foreign, defence and economic policy - were better run centrally.

"If we are able to make that new constitutional settlement work, then I tell you we will have lit a beacon for the future, not just here in Scotland, not just in the United Kingdom, but thoughout the world," he told the audience.

Later, Mr Blair was due to address a fundraising gala for the Scottish Labour party.

Tony Blair: "We are going to defeat separatism"
Even before starting out on his trip, he dismissed the nationalists' vision of an independent nation, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme "the tide was turning against nationalism".

He accused SNP leader Alex Salmond of dodging the real issues.

Alex Salmond: "We're not interested in breaking the social union"
Mr Blair said: "It is manifestly in the interests of England and Scotland that we stay together."

Mr Salmond denied his party was ducking the issue.

[ image: Dennis Canavan: Not selected for Scottish Parliament elections]
Dennis Canavan: Not selected for Scottish Parliament elections
He said: "We're not interested in breaking the social unit of the people of the British Isles.

"What we are interest in is Scotland is having direct political representation as part of the European Union, that's independence in Europe.

"It's a very broad and inclusive concept and a very exciting one."

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