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I WILL WORK WITH ECK; As Johann Lamont prepares to name her team to take on the Nats, she begins with a surprising admission..

Byline: Magnus Gardham

NEW LABOUR LEADER: HER FIRST FULL INTERVIEW EXCLUSIVE NEW Scots Labour leader Johann Lamont yesterday offered to work with the SNP government to tackle Scotland's youth unemployment crisis.

In her first newspaper interview since being elected leader of her party, the Pollok MSP said she would be a constructive opposition leader.

And in a phone call with First Minister Alex Salmond hours after the result was announced, she offered support on tackling youth unemployment, which now stands at 100,000.

Lamont also assured Salmond that she would be a firm supporter of the government in their bid to capitalise on the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

She told the Record: "What I said to him was I'm serious about opposition, particularly given the situation we are in with the parliament and the SNP's majority.

"We will hold them to account.

We recognise we will have to provide an alternative to what he is talking about.

"But where there are areas of common concern across the parliament - and one of those must be youth unemployment - then we will work together."

HOSTILITY She added: "I also mentioned the Commonwealth Games because that's something dear to my own heart and to Glasgow, the city I represent."

Lamont's conciliatory tone, after years of knee-jerk "tribal" Labour hostility to the SNP, should not be taken as a sign she's gone soft, however.

Asked how she felt about the daunting prospect of her first First Minister's Questions clash with Salmond at Holyrood on Thursday, she fired back a determined two words answer: "Loving it!" Lamont claimed a clear victory in the Scots Labour leadership race on Saturday.

er cent of the vote, choice ballots did ounted.

She won 51 per meaning second not have to be counted. And although Macintosh, the more backing from members, Lamont pick among MSPs, Labour-supporting The new chief result as "decisive" gave her a clear the tough job party still shattered last May's Holyrood Details of her shadow will be announced coming days, although is certain Glasgow MP Anas Sarwar, her new deputy, will have a role. second-placed Ken Eastwood MSP, won om grassroots party ont was the first Ps, MPs, MEPs and ng union members. ef described the sive" and said it r mandate to start of rebuilding a ered by defeat in rood poll.

hadow cabinet ced in the ough it gow r, Macintosh has also been promised a "big role" in Lamont's top team.

She will keep a campaign pledge to recruit experts from outside Holyrood - and even outside politics - to her shadow cabinet. And she insists she will "take her time" t m d e er et. he e" PHONE JCALL Alex Salmond appointments right. Time, inexhaustible election may not canny political is, Lamont have to get off to those weekly Salmond.

to get the appointmen however, is not in i supply. The next elec be until 2016 but, c operator that she knows she will hav a strong start in jousts with Salmo She also know big test in nex council electi course, in th independence The SNP h secret of the tion to s Glasgow contro next Vi be h the pre refe Bu knows she faces a next May's local elections and, of the historic referendum. have made no their determination seize "fortress Glasgow" from Labour control at the polls year.

Victory would huge boost for SNP as they prepare for the referendum.

But Lamont said: "The council elections are important in themselves. The fact the SNP see winning Glasgow as a platform for independence diminishes the importance of having a good local council for the people of Glasgow and across Scotland.

"We know people's services are under the cosh.

"Labour councils are a frontline defence for people when the pressure of cuts is coming."

What about preparations for the independence referendum, which could be in 2014, 2015 or 2016 under Salmond's plans? The very vagueness is enough to prompt a reaction.

"It could be in 2012," interjects Lamont.

"The only person who is keeping the people of Scotland from making a decision on whether they want to stay inside the UK or not is Alex Salmond.

"There is nothing inhibiting him calling a referendum, giving us a date, making sure there is clarity in the question andthen engaging in a hard political debate about which future vision for Scotland people want.

"I'm more than happy to engage him in that argument now."

She added: "We're ready for the argument when he has the courage to put the question down. Give us a timescale."

Why does she think he's stalling? "You'd have to ask him that," Lamont said.

"It seems inexplicable to me. "I would hate to think it was because he was seeking party advantage.

"I would hate to think it was because he thought he might have a better chance.

"I would hope he wouldn't be wishing a further Tory UK government on people in order to improve his chances. I think he should just do it."

Most Holyrood watchers reckon that any kind of pro-UK campaign - which is expected to be an umbrella group of different parties, business organisations, unions and other civic bodies - is rather further from being match- fit than Lamont implies.

WEALTH But Lamont's strong views will put her at the very heart of the battle when Salmond does finally set a date.

In a stout defence of the benefits of Britain, she said: "I think the United Kingdom has delivered very significant social change across the whole of the country.

"I think it redistributes wealth out of the south-east of England across the whole of the UK.

"And there are huge kinship ties and friendships that are really important to people.

"Economically, in terms of markets, it is really important and it continues to be so.

"I think Scotland can stand strong inside the United Kingdom.

"The record shows that it does.

"But, of course, at UK level we want a government who understand needs across the whole UK.

"In Scotland, they need to understand that their economic choices are hitting people really hard.

"It's true across the UK that those who had least to do with causing the economic crisis are carrying the heaviest burden. That's unacceptable.

"But that's not caused by the Union. It's not because David Cameron is English. It's because he's a Tory that we have a problem."

It's an argument Salmond might find himself facing on Thursday.


PHONE JCALL Alex Salmond
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 19, 2011
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