ALEX Salmond has claimed a vote for the SNP is the only way to protect “vital services” as he launched the party’s campaign in the Aberdeen Donside by-election.
But opponents insist the claims “ring hollow” in the face of swingeing SNP cuts to college spending and a £21 million shortfall in local council funding.
The First Minister joined Nationalist candidate Mark McDonald in the city for the official launch of his campaign, which is taking place in the wake of the death of SNP MSP Brian Adam.
The Nationalists are defending a 7,000 majority in the seat and widely expected to hold on to.
Mr Salmond insisted that “local priorities” such as free personal care, bus passes for the elderly, free prescriptions and free university education for Scottish students would only be safe under the SNP.
The First Minister said: “Brian Adam was an outstanding MSP for Donside and a passionate supporter of an independent Scotland.
“He was re-elected two years ago on a manifesto pledge to freeze the council tax for the lifetime of this parliament and support core policies which improve people’s quality of life - such as free personal care, the bus pass for over-60-year-olds, no prescription charges and free education for young folk.”
The First Minister insisted Mr McDonald is the only candidate who can “unequivocally pledge” to support them if he wins the election next month.
The Labour party is currently conducting a wide-ranging review into universal services and whether well-off middle class families and pensioners should make some contribution as resources become increasingly scarce.
But Mr Salmond insisted: “A vote for them in this by-election would jeopardise these vital services.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was in the city to meet students at Aberdeen College to discuss SNP Government plans to cut the further education budget by £25 million this year.
Mr Rennie said: “Mark McDonald might talk about standing up for Donside, but the fact of the matter is that as an MSP he spent more time talking about independence than the things that really matter to people in Aberdeen.
“For the students we met today who are concerned about college cuts, that the SNP forced through at Holyrood, his claims of delivering for local people will ring hollow.”
Christine Jardine, a former advisor to Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, is standing for the Lib Dems.
Labour candidate Willie Young added: “The people of Aberdeen Donside know all about Alex Salmond’s record of delivery - he has has failed to deliver the college places we need, the infrastructure investment we need and the fair share of funding we need to meet this city’s potential.
“The SNP has taken this area for granted for too long - our city needs someone who will stand up to Alex Salmond and stand up for Aberdeen.”
Mr McDonald was until recently a Nationalist MSP for the North East area but gave up his regional seat to contest the by-election.
The Tories are warning that a controversial programme of court closures around Scotland will see Aberdeen Sheriff Court burdened with an extra 800 cases from nearby Stonehaven and leave it running at near 100% capacity.
Tory candidate Ross Thomson said: “The SNP is forging ahead with these unpopular proposals despite opposition from communities and even some of their own MSPs.
“They have rushed into this move, even though it has been well warned that it will result in huge inconvenience to witnesses and victims in Aberdeen Donside and the rest of the city.”
Local campaigner Rhonda Reekie will contest the seat for the Scottish Green Party.
The UK Independence Party (Ukip) candidate is Otto Inglis, the Scottish National Front candidate is David MacDonald, Tom Morrow is standing for the Scottish Christian Party and the Scottish Democratic Alliance candidate is James Trolland.