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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2007, 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK
The Scottish legacy of Tony Blair
Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland's political editor

Tony Blair was in the land of his birth rather frequently during the recent elections. For the avoidance of doubt, I refer to Scotland.

Donald Dewar and Tony Blair

On his last visit, he confirmed, with a cheeky grin, that his likely successor as PM would be a Scot. Further to avoid doubt, he meant Gordon Brown.

A wag in the hand-picked audience shouted: "You mean another Scot!" Mr Blair responded with yet another cheeky grin. It was a big day for cheeky grins.

For, indeed, TB was born in Edinburgh. (Understandably, in Glasgow, he tends to emphasise his dad's connections with that city instead, speaking with hushed rapture about Govan.)

He was largely educated in Edinburgh, at Fettes College. If he was any good at football, he could play for Scotland. (To be honest, if he was only average, he could get a game.)

He has a Scottish surname. He has a clan. If he wanted to be Scottish, nobody could gainsay him.

Understandably, given that he was largely brought up in England and has an English constituency, he tends to elide his roots, arguing that his mixed heritage represents all that is good about the family that is the United Kingdom.

Grand design

However, Tony Blair has one clear, fixed place in Scottish history. He is the Prime Minister who brought about Scottish devolution.

Or, more accurately, he was Prime Minister when Scottish devolution was brought about.

Let me explain that caveat. It is commonplace at Westminster to talk of the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in the context of reform of the House of Lords and other constitutional changes.

To talk as if it were some grand design, springing fully formed from the alert brain of the great leader.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair argues his mixed heritage is an advantage

Commonplace. But complete tosh.

The agitation for Scottish Home Rule lasted a century and more. The precise scheme for a Scottish Parliament was developed in Scotland by (other) Scots, before Tony Blair became Labour leader.

Tony Blair was not a particular fan of devolution. Left to himself, he would not have initiated such a project.

Left to themselves, he and his coterie would have regarded such a project as a diversion.

A few expressed such doubts, privately and in public. Some UK Cabinet Ministers were utterly unconvinced - and had to be taken through the entire scheme, line by line.

They were, of course, entirely entitled to pursue such a course of action - and they were right. It ensured that the eventual scheme was fully road tested.

So, what was Tony Blair's role?

He rose above the sceptics, the cynics and the fanatics. He saw, clearly, that devolution was politically inevitable.

Having reached that conclusion, he backed Donald Dewar to the hilt in implementing the scheme.

When D Dewar was really up against it, he knew he could count on the decidedly influential support of the PM.

If Donald Dewar is the father of devolution - a designation he would have cordially loathed - then Tony Blair is perhaps the Godfather.

Tony Blair birth certificate
Tony Blair's birth certificate proves his Scots roots

The powerful fixer who cut through the haggling and got things done.

Much good has it done him in Scottish opinion. He is not, how can one put it, universally adored.

Perhaps it's the wicked Scottish media - of which I am a proud member.

After all, he called us - in a moment of exasperation - "unreconstructed w*ers." (I reckon that's about the minimum I could get away with in terms of asterisks.)

Think it was one of those early occasions when TB wanted to talk about his mission with regard to education (or whatever it was) - and we wanted to talk about devolution.

He never quite got it: that the identity and Home Rule debate in Scotland was the underlay for everything else.

Not more important, ultimately, but more fundamental.

Equally, though, the wicked Scottish media could be unfair. It is said to this day on sundry websites that Tony Blair compared the Scottish Parliament to a "parish council".

That is simply not correct.

Tony Blair school picture
Tony Blair was educated at Fettes College in Edinburgh

He was speaking in the context of a debate about tax powers. He pointed out that it would be curious if the Scottish Parliament were to be denied the fiscal clout currently available to the humble Parish council.

He was contrasting the two - not comparing them. No matter, no matter.

More widely, Tony Blair will be remembered for Iraq - the Prime Minister who took us into an "illegal war" - or as a political winner, the first Labour leader to achieve three successive election victories.

He may be remembered for a settlement in Northern Ireland - although, again, the credit must be shared with other, earlier figures.

And Scotland? Relatively little, I suspect, in the shape of emotional response.

Most will fall into one of the two categories listed above.

The PM has gone, on to the next one. Then again, perhaps Scots don't do adulation. Instead of ululating in joy, we're more inclined to grouse: "Aye, I kent his faither."

In the case of Tony Blair, for older Glaswegians that could literally be true.




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