SCOTTISH Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has attacked the SNP as an “illiberal, centralising, arrogant and increasingly incompetent” government in a speech at his party’s annual UK conference.
Mr Rennie said the SNP was talking up the prospects of a second independence referendum rather than concentrating on the domestic agenda in Scotland.
He said the nationalists had a “list of excuses for a second referendum” on issues such as Trident, the European Union and devolution as part of an agenda to drag Scotland towards a second vote on independence.
Speaking to the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth, Mr Rennie said Nicola Sturgeon’s party would use any excuse to talk about anything but their public service failures at home.
Mr Rennie said the failure of Police Scotland to find a young couple John Yuill and Lamara Bell who crashed off the motorway for three days epitomised the failure of the SNP administration.
The SNP controversially merged all of Scotland’s police forces into a single body in 2013 despite protests from political opponents it would damage services. Mr Rennie said: “It is shameful that it took the deaths of John Yuill and Lamara Bell to force them to act. This shows more than any other single issue that there is something wrong at the heart of the SNP Government.
“They were warned. They should have known. They should be ashamed.
“There is no hyperbole in what I now say. If it were not for the small team of determined Liberal Democrats in Holyrood the SNP would go unchallenged on the police, on justice and on the protection of our civil liberties.”
The Scottish Lib Dem leader went on to warn that the SNP may attempt to force a fresh independence referendum some time after next year’s Holyrood elections.
Mr Rennie also cited comments from the SNP-supporting former James Bond actor Sir Sean Connery who said Scottish independence was only a matter of time.
He said: “The SNP are an illiberal, centralising, arrogant and increasingly incompetent government who have put their party before my country for far too long. They have a list of excuses for a second referendum which now encompasses Trident, the EU, UK Labour poll ratings, the legislative timetable for the new devolved powers and, of course, the opinion of Sean Connery.”
Mr Rennie, speaking yesterday, told the Lib Dem conference that there was a shortage of GPs in the Scottish NHS and “neglected” mental health services, while in schools literacy and numeracy standards were falling.
He said: “Children at school today have only ever had the SNP running their schools. But SNP ministers behave as if it’s their first day in charge.
“It isn’t. Their eye has been off the ball for years.”
The Scottish Lib Dem leader said his team of five MSPs was “punching above its weight” as it bids to rebuild following severe losses in 2011.
SNP MSP James Dornan, hitting back, said: “Despite leading the Lib Dems through several election disasters, it’s clear Willie Rennie still does not understand why voters in Scotland have so dramatically abandoned his party.
“His negative, SNP-obsessed conference speech is further proof that the Lib Dems have nothing positive to offer.
“Mr Rennie’s colleagues have spent the last five years propping up a cruel Tory government making massive cuts to social security, cutting public services and increasing tuition fees - whilst setting aside billions more for nuclear weapons.”