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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK

UK: Scotland

Devolution is working, says Dewar

Donald Dewar said devolution is delivering a better Scotland

Scottish First Minister Donald Dewar has told the Labour conference devolution is working for the people of Scotland.

Mr Dewar, who received a warm reception, also defended Labour's coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish administration, which has faced internal tensions in its first few months.

He told delegates that the Scottish Executive would turn its pledges on education and health into real changes across the country.

And he highlighted plans for a new agency to confiscate the profits made by drug dealers.

Mr Dewar told the conference in Bournemouth that a "working, stable majority" was needed in the new Scottish Parliament to deliver Labour policies.

He said the coalition with the Liberal Democrats, which was forged when Labour failed to win outright majority in the May elections was "founded, as every honest coalition must be, on a common approach".

Referring to the issue of tuition fees, Mr Dewar said Labour had agreed to a review of student finance in a spirit of co-operation but did not make reference to the Liberal Democrats' opposition to the abolition of fees - an issue which could threaten the coalition.

[ image: Donald Dewar:
Donald Dewar: "Honest coalition"
The first minister added: "We are determined to unlock opportunity and to deliver on the social justice agenda. That is our priority, your priority and how we can best take that agenda forward."

In his first conference speech since becoming first minister, Mr Dewar won loud applause when he explained the reasons behind plans for a Drug Enforcement Agency in Scotland.

Denying the move was "window-dressing for conference", he said it would "take the war on drugs to the dealers" and stop them from "bringing fear and crime, and blighting the lives of our children".

Mr Dewar said: "If you deal in drugs, we will catch you. When we catch you, we will jail you. While you are in jail, we will seize assets from drug dealing."

Donald Dewar: "We will keep faith with the people who put their faith in us"
He launched into an attack on the Scottish National Party and Tories, with most of his fire directed at the nationalists.

He said: "Let us not forget that there are two coalitions in the Scottish Parliament - one for Scotland - and another - the SNP/Tory Alliance.

"A more unholy and unprincipled combination is hard to imagine. United only by a determination to make Scotland fail."

Mr Dewar also accused the SNP of avoiding reality in claiming "victory" in the Hamilton South by-election last week.

BBC Scotland Westminster Correspondent David Porter
SNP candidate Annabelle Ewing carved up Labour's huge general election majority and almost defeated Labour candidate Bill Tynan.

However, Mr Dewar said the fact remained that Labour retained the seat.

He said: "The nationalists came to Hamilton promising victory. They have been promising victory for as long as I can remember - and now victory for them means coming second - again."

Mr Dewar said the "stark reality" was that the majority of Scots had voted for devolution and not "splitting the United Kingdom" through independence.

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