Blair warns against Scottish independence by Lachlan Carmichael
1 hour, 6 minutes ago
LONDON (AFP) - Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned against any bid to break Britain apart, saying it would be "a crazy" step 300 years after Scotland and England united.
Blair's warning Tuesday came as the Scottish National Party (SNP) used the anniversary of their union to launch a fresh drive for independence, while some opinion polls suggested a majority of Scots and English want to separate.
Speaking at his monthly press conference, Blair said Britons should celebrate "with pride" Tuesday's tercentenary of the merger of the Scottish and English parliaments.
"In commerce, in trade, in security and above all in shared values, the union of England and Scotland continues to be good for England, good for Scotland and right for the future of Britain," Blair said.
It would be "crazy for Scotland to be wrenched out of the United Kingdom" of Britain and Northern Ireland, he added, noting that 2.5 million Scots live in England, half Scotland's total. England's population is some 50 million.
"Separation is a retreat into an old-fashioned view of the world that would be bizarre in the 21st century," Blair warned. "It would be an incredibly regressive and reactionary step to break it apart now."
Blair, who was born and schooled in Edinburgh, warned that even the prospect of a referendum on Scottish independence would damage economic confidence.
However, he stopped short of echoing a warning by Gordon Brown, his Scottish finance minister and heir apparent, of a "dangerous drift" toward separatism in Britain.
The SNP is using the anniversary to back its bid in May local elections to wrest control of the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh from a coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats with plans for such a referendum.
Having disappeared 300 years ago during the January 16, 1707 Act of Union, a limited Scottish parliament was restored in 1999 as part of a bid to blunt separatism by Blair's Labour government.
However, the SNP insists desire for a separate Scotland is higher than ever.
"Those in the London parties who would deny the people their right to choose are the political reincarnation of the 'parcel of rogues' of 1707 who sold Scotland away," SNP leader Alex Salmond said.
His party played on the grievance by launching a campaign featuring posters declaring: "1707 No right to choose -- 2007 the right to choose."
George Foulkes, a Labour member of the unelected House of Lords in London, told AFP his party was mounting a vigorous campaign for seats in the Scottish parliament as he was "genuinely concerned" about rising separatist sentiment.
Though two polls since November showed that a majority of Scots and English favored a split, a BBC poll on Tuesday found that 56 percent of Scots and 73 percent of the English supported union.
Blair suggested the way some opinion polls are phrased can influence people's answers. "I don't think people in Scotland want independence," he said.
No extravagant bash is in the works for the tercentenary. Planned events include the launching of two-pound commemorative coin in London Tuesday evening.
"I think they realized that very few people would turn up -- and it's unwise to hold a party no-one would come to," the SNP leader said.
Blair said union was about substance rather than glitz.
"The most important thing is not fireworks but argument, and giving a coherent reason as to why the union of England and Scotland is good for today's world and the future," Blair said.