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BBC Scotland's political editor Brian Taylor
"This was a deliberately restrained prime ministerial performance"
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Listen to Tony Blair's full address
"Devolution is not about fossilising"
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Thursday, 9 March, 2000, 23:25 GMT
Blair denies union will break
Tony Blair
Tony Blair addresses the Scottish Parliament
The prime minister has told the Scottish Parliament that devolution is creating an "evolved and stronger" union and is not leading to the break up of the UK.

Tony Blair used his first speech to the new parliament not only to reiterate his faith in devolved government but to outline his fight against drugs throughout Europe.

He had been due to attend the formal opening of the parliament last July but had to stay in Northern Ireland during a crisis over the peace talks.

Our union is evolving - we see it in Wales, Northern Ireland and in the regions of England and most of all we feel it in Scotland

Tony Blair
Before turning to political and constitutional matters he targetted sections of the media which had heaped criticism on the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition since it came into being last May.

He said: "Scepticism is healthy, cynicism is corrosive."

Mr Blair began his address by praising the work of the parliament and its MSPs.

He listed their credits which included 60 new community schools, the renovation and building of 100 Scottish schools and the biggest NHS building programme since the war in Scotland.

Mr Blair outlined why devolution was the right path to take throughout the whole of the UK.

Devolved decisions

He said: "There is an historical movement away from central government and a desire among many for decisions to be made closure to them.

"Devolution is not an accident but an intention, despite others saying it is the end of Britain. it

"Devolution is not about fossilising institutions and not changing them. We are bringing our constitution up to date so it reflects changing values.

Blair Steel Dewar
Mr Blair is greeted at the parliament
"It is important not to forget why we went ahead with change - it was to empower the people of Scotland, to create better government which has greater scrutiny, to modernise the partnership which is today's UK and above all it was to enhance and improve the daily lives and opportunities of every man woman and child in Scotland today and for years to comes.

"Our country is changing, the institutions of the 19th century will not survive us in the 21st. Our union is evolving - we see it in Wales, Northern Ireland and in the regions of England and most of all we feel it in Scotland."

The UK leader outlined his visions on tackling the scourge of drugs.

'War on drugs'

He said with about 300 Scots dying each year because of drugs, it was more important than ever to act.

"We have to tackle this at every level, I want the war on drugs to be a higher priority for the union.

"We will press for minimum penalties throughout the EU, dealers must know they face the severest penalties whenever or wherever they are caught.

"Action to deal with drugs is an excellence example of where we should work together.

Dennis Canavan
Dennis Canavan with his "Vote Ken" poster
"There are things predominantly Scottish which should be done by Scots in Scotland, but there are things we can only do effectively with each other for example defence, whether in Northern Ireland, East Timor or in Mozambique."

With the first by-election to the Scottish Parliament just days away, the speech kept away from party politics.

But independent MSP Dennis Canavan, who was expelled by Labour, disrupted the closing moments of the parliament ceremony by holding up a poster saying: "Vote Ken."

Mr Canavan stood as an Independent candidate for the Scottish Parliament after being left off Labour's official list of candidates.

He also pointedly refused to applaud Mr Blair before and after his speech.

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See also:

09 Mar 00 |  Scotland
Mixed views on Blair address
09 Mar 00 |  Scotland
Dewar defends devolution
25 Feb 00 |  Scotland
Drug chief issues warning
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