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THE X FACTOR; ONE DAY TO GO.. Poll boost for Labour in Scotland as Blair says Brown will be PM.

Byline: By Magnus Gardham

TONY BLAIR yesterday told Scotland's voters that Gordon Brown will be Prime Minister within weeks.

In a massive boost to Labour's Holyrood campaign, Blair gave his strongest-ever backing to the Chancellor's ambition to succeed him.

Last night, they had more good news after a poll showed they are snapping at the Nationalists' heels.

Labour strategists believe Blair's move will cut the ground from under the SNP, who hope to ride to victory tomorrow on the back of an anti-Blair protest vote.

Blair acknowledged last month that some voters, angry over the war in Iraq, might want to give him "one last kicking" before he quits.

But party insiders now hope that, with Brown likely to take the top job as early as June 30, the final hours of the campaign will be focused on Scottish issues. And the outgoing PM says that while Alex Salmond would pick fights with England in a bid to destroy the Union, Brown and Jack McConnell will form a dream team and put the interests of Scotland first.

Blair anointed Brown as his successor in a speech at Edinburgh's Corn Exchange.

He said: "In a few weeks, I'll not be Prime Minister of this country.

"It will be time for new leadership.

"In all probability, a Scot will become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. That is someone who has built one of the strongest economies in the world, and, as I've always said, will make a great Prime Minister."

The PM's endorsement leaves Brown on the brink of taking over, with rivals in the Cabinet leaving the way clear and Blair expected to announce his departure date next week.

The Chancellor could walk through the door of No 10 on June 30 if the handover timetable goes as predicted.

Blair - on the 10th anniversary of his 1997 General Election triumph - launched an attack on Salmond's plan to split the UK.

The PM said: "If Jack McConnell is re-elected, he is going to be getting up in the morning and saying, 'How can we get education better?'

"The other guy is going to be getting up and saying, 'I'm going to pick a fight with the English today.'

"The politics of nationalism is just bad politics. It divides people, it pits people against each other.

"Scotland says, 'Give us back our oil.' England says, 'Give us back our money.'

"Is that how we want our future defined?"

McConnell, who joined Blair at the Corn Exchange, pledged to "fight for Scotland and families".

He said: "This party stands for the many. We stand up for those who have least."

Blair praised McConnell as "a fine leader for Scotland".

They joined forces as Labour mounted an all-out push in the final hours of the campaign.

The Nats held an eight-point lead over Labour in a poll at the weekend. But fresh figures released last night had the gap at two points.

An ICM poll showed support for labour in the constituency vote had shot up five points to 32 per cent.

The SNP were on 34 per cent. In the regional lists vote, the poll had Labour on 29 per cent and the SNP on 30 per cent.

A second survey had the Nats on 33 per cent of the constituency vote - a four-point lead - and three points ahead on the list vote.

'There are thousands of Record readers who are still undecided. They know the SNP pose a risk to the future of our young people'

'The politics of nationalism is just bad politics. It divides people, it pits people against each other'

CAPTION(S):

TOP TICKET: McConnell yesterday and Brown, above, have got Blair's backing to lead Scotland within a united Britain; BLAIR: Yesterday DEREK BLAIRR
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 2, 2007
Words:625
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