Thursday, November 23, 2006


British Prime Minister Tony Blair today mounted a desperate all-out assault on the economic case for independence as polls showed Labour heading for a mauling at May's Holyrood elections.

Two polls by YouGov - one commissioned by the Daily Telegraph and the other by the SNP - showed Labour losing seats.

The Telegraph poll suggested that Labour would remain the biggest single party, but down nine seats on its 2003 performance and well short of a majority. The SNP said their poll figures if translated into seats, would give them a 13 seat lead over Labour.

Mr Blair's attack on the Nationalists came in an article in The Scotsman ahead of the Scottish Labour party conference in Oban, which the Prime Minister will address tomorrow. In a sign of the seriousness with which Labour views the SNP threat, First Minister Jack McConnell has publicly warned his party that Nationalists could win in May.

Mr Blair's article concentrated on the economic aspects of the independence argument.
He recalled that in their opposition years he and Gordon Brown had set much store on establishing Labour's economic credibility to win the trust of voters.

"As I'll be making clear in Oban tomorrow, I think the same obligations should be placed on a party which wants to break up a successful partnership and march Scotland off on its own," he said.

"The SNP needs to show how Scotland's economy will gain from such a move and show how it will fund its promises. Not for the first time, they fail this test."

On the SNP's figures, said Mr Blair, there was a £10 billion difference between money spent in Scotland and tax raised. "That's £4,000 for every family in Scotland met from the UK Exchequer," he said. That represented a simple recognition that it cost more to provide the same services and infrastructure in areas with scattered populations, he said.

"But break up the UK however, then this Union dividend disappears. "So before the SNP start to explain how they are gong to find the £1.7 billion needed to write off student debt or the additional £1.4 billion to fund the promised cut in corporation tax, they had better explain how the £10 billion shortfall is going to be met."

On the Telegraph poll figures, Labour are running at 32% in the constituency vote (down 7% on 2003) and 29% on the list vote (down 5%)

The SNP are level-pegging at 32% in the constituency vote (up 3%) and are slightly behind Labour in the list vote at 28% (no change).

The Liberal Democrats are running at 15% in the constituency vote (up 1%) and 16% in the list vote (up 3%) while the Tories are running at 16% in the constituency vote (no change) and 17% in the list vote (up 1%).

Poll expert Professor John Curtice said the figures would translate into 41 seats for Labour, 37 for the SNP, 20 for the Liberal Democrats, 19 for the Tories, 9 for the Greens, and three for others.

On independence, the Telegraph poll suggests that in a referendum, 50% would vote in favour of keeping the present Scottish Parliament while 31% would vote for Scotland to be "a completely separate state" outside the UK but within the EU.

[typical poll brings in the EU question to divide the pro indy vote - JOE]

The SNP poll, however, puts the Nationalists on 36% in the constituency vote and 30% in the regional vote, Labour on 29% and 26%, the Tories on 14% and 15%, the Liberal Democrats on 16% and 15%, and the Greens at 8% on the list vote.

Nationalists said that translated into 49 SNP seats, 36 Labour, 16 Tories, 17 LibDems, six Greens, and minority far-left parties reduced from six seats to one.

SNP leader Alex Salmond said: "This poll is great news for the SNP and awful news for the Labour Party on the eve of their Scottish conference this weekend.

"It is also the first poll published which shows that we are on track to meet our target of twenty additional first past the post seats next May. The SNP now have forwards momentum as Labour's support across Scotland is disappearing like snow off a dyke."

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