ED Miliband will today turn up the heat in the debate over independence with a highly personal attack on SNP leader Alex Salmond.
Addressing the Scottish Labour Party conference in Inverness, Mr Miliband will accuse the First Minister of being “self-serving and selfish”, of “drawing a line” through the country and of promoting a “narrow nationalism that prays for Tory success” to boost support for independence.
He will attempt to draw comparisons between the SNP and the Tories, claiming Mr Salmond is promoting a “divisive politics” in the same way that Margaret Thatcher did in the 1980s. Mr Miliband’s comments are likely to draw criticism from his opponents for personalising the debate and focusing the attack so directly on Mr Salmond.
The Labour leader will also back a new economic settlement on banking and business reform, as well as calling for long-term investment in jobs and tax.
Mr Miliband, speaking on the opening day of Labour’s conference today, will talk about how the UK’s economy can “succeed not when a few at the top do well, but when everyone contributes to our country”.
In an attack on bankers and a deregulated financial sector, he will pledge action to end the “dominance of finance over industry” and “in-it-for-yourself” economy.
The Labour leader will also promise to end “tax cuts for millionaires” and to end the culture of “fewer rights at work” that he claims is promoted by the Tory-Lib Dem government.
In a bid to rally support north of the Border, he will say: “We need to build a new settlement and only Labour can do it. The answer lies not in going back, but in a new settlement, appropriate for new times.”
But he saves his strongest criticism for the First Minister, saying: “What about Alex Salmond? While we sketch a plan for our economic future, he spends his time drawing a line through the country. It’s the same divisive politics that we’ve seen from the Conservatives, just for a different end.
“He divides between the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. A narrow nationalism that somehow believes we’re stronger apart than together.
“… That is so obsessed with driving us apart, that it has no focus on the issues that really shape people’s lives.
“What did he say about Lady Thatcher’s legacy? That she helped to deliver a Scottish Parliament. Well I’ve got a message for him. Margaret Thatcher didn’t make the case for a Scottish Parliament. The Labour Party and the people of Scotland did. And Margaret Thatcher didn’t deliver a Scottish Parliament – a Labour government working with the people of Scotland did.
“His is a narrow nationalism that thinks the way Scotland prospers is in a race to the bottom across the UK, cutting corporation tax rates for powerful companies while doing nothing for working people. And a narrow nationalism that says if it is in the interest of the SNP then it is OK to do cosy deals with Rupert Murdoch.
“A narrow nationalism that prays for Tory success so that he can convince people that the only way to get rid of the Tories is to get out of the UK. Praying for Tory success: have you ever heard such a self-serving, selfish, narrow-minded, blinkered, in-it-for-yourself, divide-and-rule piece of nonsense?”
The Labour leader will also attack the coalition government’s controversial welfare reforms and back “proper rights to work” for the unemployed.
He will say: “Building a recovery made by the many needs every person who can to play their part.
“And, for all the Tories’ rhetoric about welfare reform, the costs of economic failure are just going up and up.”
Turning his sights on the Tory party, he accuses David Cameron of failing to deliver improvements to the economy.
“Some people used to believe David Cameron could change our economy for the better but not anymore,” he will say.
“We’ve got a government making things worse: the slowest recovery for 100 years; wages frozen; prices going up; unemployment increasing; borrowing rising. Their plan has completely and utterly failed. And what is their solution? How do they say we can turn our economy around? Tax cuts for millionaires – the old way of doing things that says wealth trickles down from the top.
“Fewer rights at work – the old solutions making it easier to fire, not hire people. And, from the people who brought you what they called the community charge, the poll tax, comes something they call the spare-room subsidy. But we know what it is: the bedroom tax.
“All the time they just seek to divide not unite our country, trying to pretend we have a good government being let down by bad people when the reality is that this is a country of good people being let down by a bad government.”
SNP MSP David Torrance claimed Mr Miliband’s Labour Party had “abandoned social justice” as he defended Mr Salmond’s record as First Minister.
He said: “The SNP represents the broad views of what people in Scotland want and Alex Salmond has played a key role in opposing the policies of Conservative governments over the years. Ed Miliband on the other hand has abandoned social justice and embraced the politics of middle England.”