Scotland is a healthy place to be a Liberal Democrat. The party is strong north and south of the border. As Executive partners in Government Liberal Democrats have demonstrated not only our ability to govern, but the real difference that our policies can make when taken from drawing board to practical application. At Westminster, we are now Scotland’s second party with both votes and seats. The by-election success in the Labour heartland of Dunfermline and West Fife this year validates our position.
Since devolution, the growth of Scotland politically and economically is marked. There is a palpable deviation by the Scottish Executive from the Labour Party at Westminster, which shows the difference that Liberal Democrats in Government north of the border has made.
The ban on smoking in public places in Scotland is the most significant public health measure introduced for a generation. While Labour muddles with its watered-down UK legislation, the Liberal Democrats were the first party to declare our support for a full ban on smoking in public places, back in summer 2004.
The abolition of up-front tuition fees in Scotland in favour of a graduate endowment is creating an environment in which more students can afford to go to university. Those from poorer backgrounds are not discouraged by fears of graduating with a millstone of debt. Compare this to England and Wales, where variable top-up fees of up to £3000 a year take effective this September – effectively creating a two-tier system, excluding poorer students and burdening thousands with huge debts.
The Liberal Democrats at Westminster have 12 Scottish MPs, the greatest number in the Liberal tradition since 1930. With the Conservatives an irrelevance in Scotland, we are taking the battle to Labour in key policy areas such as Scotland’s energy future.
For example, the nuclear option has already been wholeheartedly rejected by the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Waste issues remain unresolved, the economics of nuclear are a tried and tested failure, and the current bill to the taxpayer for cleaning up our existing nuclear waste stands at £70bn and rising. With the Prime Minister admitting that the Scottish Executive will have the power, through the planning rules, to veto new build nuclear power in Scotland, there is thankfully no prospect of the Scottish Executive agreeing to new nuclear with the Liberal Democrats as part of it.
Scotland is blessed with the sun, rain, wind, wave, tides. All can produce clean, renewable energy sources in far greater abundance than most of Europe. Scotland is three years ahead of schedule to meet its target of generating 18% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010, and with continued investment, as well as clear expressions from Westminster of confidence in renewable technologies, we can become a world leader in renewable energy supply.
Over foreign policy issues, the Liberal Democrats in Scotland have been outspoken in our criticism of aspects of Tony Blair’s ‘special relationship’ with George W. Bush. The use of Prestwick Airport, both for illegal ‘rendition’ flights and transfer of arms to Israel, has been a national disgrace. Liberal Democrats have been tireless in campaigning for the protection of civil liberties and with the huge amount of legislation passed by Labour since 1997 we will continue to speak out against the gradually whittling away of an individuals freedom.
Tony Blair is now a liability for Labour. He is losing support for his party in Scotland fast. The Iraq war, his relationship with Bush and his anti-terrorism legislation are all costing Labour Scottish votes. Willie Rennie’s victory in the Labour heartland of Dunfermline and West Fife in February was typical of the Caledonian crisis they are facing.
The run up to the Scottish Parliament election next year gives Liberal Democrats another opportunity to interact and publicise our policies. Our track record in Government in Holyrood and as the real alternative in Westminster stands us in good stead.