The Truth

Brown humiliates Alexander .........

added 11/5/08

from The Scotsman
11 May 2008
By Eddie Barnes, Political Editor

WENDY Alexander was ridiculed by her political opponents last night after she was ordered by Gordon Brown to "close down" any further discussion of an independence referendum in Scotland.

In emergency talks on Friday following the Scottish leader's astonishing call for a referendum, the Prime Minister told Alexander the issue should be ditched.

Scotland on Sunday can reveal the Prime Minister told Alexander twice in the past few days that he did not support her proposal to force an referendum on Scotland, to "call the SNP's bluff".

But Alexander chose to ignore her mentor and pressed ahead anyway, even claiming publicly she had his support.

The affair has left a deep scar in relations between the two former allies, who spent more than 24 hours over Friday and Saturday trying to piece together a fresh statement declaring they were now in agreement.

This was supposed to draw a line under the matter, but Alexander faced further mockery by political opponents last night after conceding in the statement that her hopes of forcing a snap referendum in the next year were now dead in the water.

The SNP says it will hold the referendum in the autumn of 2010. Meanwhile, Alexander's other option to get Brown to rush through a referendum bill at Westminster has been closed off after the Prime Minister told her he would not countenance such a plan.

And in a further setback for Alexander, the former First Minister Henry McLeish said the affair had shown "contempt" for the Scottish people, and he accused her of leading Labour "into the worst of all possible worlds". Labour MSPs also privately warned they may rebel against Alexander by voting against a referendum bill. But Labour donor Willie Haughey said he backed Alexander on the issue, declaring it was time to give Scots a vote.

The extraordinary chaos facing Labour began on Sunday when Alexander told Alex Salmond on BBC to "bring it on", arguing she was not afraid of a referendum. Aides then revealed that she backed an immediate referendum on independence. Alexander said on Tuesday that she was even considering introducing a bill of her own. However, the plan fell into farce after Brown failed to back the plan for a referendum on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, Alexander hit back, declaring that she still wanted it to go ahead.

Scotland on Sunday understands that two days before Alexander went public with her U-turn, Brown told her that he could not support a plan for a referendum on independence. Nevertheless, Alexander went ahead.

Then, in a phone conversation on Tuesday night, after Alexander's U-turn had been made public, senior Whitehall sources insisted that the Prime Minister had again repeated his refusal to back his protege. Despite that, Alexander then publicly insisted that Brown was in favour of the plan.

A Whitehall source said: "Gordon told her on the Friday before she went public that he wasn't going to back it at Westminster. "

Then, on the Tuesday, he quite clearly told her that 'You must not say that I am backing this course of action'."

However, hours later, on Newsnight Scotland, Alexander insisted that Brown did indeed back the plan. Last night, Alexander's spokesman said: "Wendy had extensive discussions with senior colleagues down south and they hadn't made clear to her that she was going in the wrong direction."

On Friday, Alexander cancelled public speaking engagements after Brown insisted that they come up with a strategy to draw a line under the affair.

Yesterday, after more than 24 hours discussion, they issued parallel statements.

Alexander declared: "The case for a referendum to demonstrate support for the Union has been increasingly discussed in Labour circles. The Scottish Labour Group at Holyrood united around calling the SNP's bluff this week."

She went on: "However, as a minority party in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Labour alone cannot force the SNP to act. The SNP have now made clear they will block any referendum bill Labour might have introduced . . . the SNP have therefore now blocked this route in the Scottish Parliament."

She added: "The SNP can never again claim that a 'unionist cabal' is denying Scotland a voice. The SNP party colour is yellow and we now know why."

An aide to Gordon Brown said: "Wendy Alexander is a first-rate leader of the Labour party in the Scottish Parliament. Together with her, and her team, Gordon Brown will continue to defend the UK and Scotland's place in it."

Henry McLeish last night savaged the handling of the affair. "This is the worst of all possible worlds. We have marginalised the Calman Commission (the body studying more powers for the Scottish Parliament), confused the Scottish public, taken the Liberals and the Tories out of the equation and seemed more enthusiastic than the SNP to have a referendum."

He added: "Labour supporters and activists will find it difficult to work out what on earth is going on. It's hard to understand how Labour could get itself into this position. What about the public? They have been treated with contempt."

And there were signs last night that some of Alexander's MSPs were beginning to rebel. One said: "Labour voters deserve better than this. Those who kept with us through recent difficulties don't deserve this. Wendy needs to examine herself to see what contribution she is making."

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie hit out: "This must go down as one of the most extraordinary, humiliating press statements ever issued. Wendy Alexander tries to defend her indefensible actions by re-writing history, stretching credibility and taking the public for fools."

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon MSP said: "Words like 'laughing stock' do not even begin to reach the extent of the Labour party's disarray and humiliation. Do they seriously believe that everyone will now believe it was all a cunning plan? Labour in Scotland are now just ridiculous and plummeting to new depths of absurdity as well as in the polls."

Nicol Stephen, of the Liberal Democrats, said: "There are fundamental question marks over the honesty of what the Labour Party is saying."