TONY Blair was advised by his Tory predecessor to have a second, confirmatory referendum on devolution to see if Scottish voters still wanted to back the final plans, according to a  newly released file from the National Archives.

John Major proposed the idea to the Labour Prime Minister after the death of Princess Diana  on August 31, 1997, which led to campaigning in the devolution vote being suspended for a week. 

Major, the Prime Minister from 1990 until 1997, said having a single referendum before the details were known was “totally inadequate”.

At the time, Labour, the SNP and Liberal Democrats all backed a Yes-Yes vote for a Scottish Parliament endowed with tax-varying powers, with the Tories opposed to both elements.

The referendum vote was on the general principle; the detailed legislation took another year.

In a letter dated September 4, 1997, Major said it was right to have a campaign lull “after the tragic events of last weekend”.

However the former Tory PM said the pause ahead of the September 11 vote also raised “a dilemma”. 

He told Blair: “The effect of this suspension has meant that this campaign, which is upon a constitutional matter of the first importance, has now become very short indeed. 

“It seems to me that the campaign has now been too brief to  be satisfactory.

“I would have preferred the date to be deferred, but I realise that... it is now too late for any such action. 

“However, this does throw into sharp focus the total inadequacy of a pre-legislative referendum. 

“I believe, in the circumstances, it would be right for the Government to commit itself to a further Referendum upon the detailed legislation if approved by Parliament, and hope that you will consider this matter carefully.”

There was no second referendum on the Scotland Bill of 1998.

The Archives also reveal Home Secretary Jack Straw urged Blair to include an “over-ride” provision in the devolution system to remind everyone Westminster remained sovereign and could impose legislation on Scotland if it chose.

This could happen if the UK Government was “unhappy about proposals for Scottish legislation” it considered ran “counter to the interests of the UK as a whole”.

In a memo to Blair in June 1997, Straw said that “in extremis” Westminster could take devolved powers back from Holyrood without its consent by passing a one-clause Bill “very quickly”. 

Dewar was described as “adamantly opposed to over-ride powers of any sort” as they smacked of the “Governor general image”.

The archives also contain the hand-written note Blair sent to Dewar on September 12, the day after the Yes-Yes vote. 

“Dear Donald,” he wrote on Chequers notepaper.

“In all the rush of today, I didn’t really say ‘thank you’ for all your extraordinary effort in Scotland. 

“It was a magnificent achievement. We are all truly grateful.”

Dewar went on to become Scotland’s first First Minister in 1999, but died in October 2000 from a brain haemorrhage aged 63.