Blair & Brown risk ‘own goal’ for Scots campaign

The prime minister Tony Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown travelled to Scotland today to defend Labour ahead of next month’s Scottish election.

With successive opinion polls showing a strong lead for the SNP, Mr Blair has been forced to defend the place of Scotland within the union and attack the SNP’s calls for separation.

However, he insisted the campaign would not focus on attacking the SNP but on making the case for Labour and Scottish leader Jack McConnell.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Blair highlighted the strong Scottish economy and said this was due to its continued links with the UK.

“One of the things I want to emphasise is actually how strong Scotland is today,” he said. “Scotland has now got an average employment rate lower than the UK average. Well I can’t remember the last time that happened. It’s got 200,000 extra jobs, we’ve got a huge financial services sector.”

Mr Blair warned: “The important thing is this: the moment you’ve got the SNP government in charge and you’ve got that referendum over the next few years then you inject uncertainty and instability into the situation.”

Voters should ask themselves one question, the prime minister argued: “Is Scotland stronger today economically? Answer yes, so why put it at risk?”

The prime minister appealed to voters as polls consistently show strong support for the SNP. The latest ICM poll, commissioned by the Scotsman, places the SNP five points ahead while other indicators have suggested the nationalists could win as many as 50 seats in Holyrood.

Despite the SNP’s popularity and Mr Blair’s focus on praise for the union, support for independence appears to be dropping among Scots. Some polls have shown as few as 27 per cent of voters support independence, down from more than half a year ago.

This has led many to suggest voters are rejecting Labour rather than being won over by the SNP’s policies. The SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon claimed Mr Blair has become a “major electoral liability” for the Labour party.

Today’s joint electioneering by Mr Blair and Mr Brown “must be Labour’s biggest own goal yet of the campaign,” she told reporters.