SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg issued an emotional appeal for Scotland to remain in “the family of four nations” in his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference yesterday.
The Liberal Democrat leader appealed to Scots to vote No on 18 September in a speech that drew heavily on British patriotism. He said the next parliament would have to focus on the “reconstruction and renewal” of the UK, with only the Lib Dems able to act as “guardians of a modern, open and tolerant Britain”.
He told delegates in York: “I love that we are a family of four different countries, each with their own characters, traditions and good-natured rivalries.
“And that’s why I want to see – we all want to see – Scotland stay in our family of nations later this year.”
Mr Clegg’s speech followed a claim that the exclusion of expatriate Scots living in other EU states from voting in the referendum could lead to a legal challenge of the result.
Barrister Aidan O’Neill, an expert in EU law, said that the decision to exclude expats in the vote has “good prospects” of being overturned in a judicial review on the grounds that it violated the rights of an estimated 1.15 million Scots to freedom of movement under European law.
Mr O’Neill said he is sending his legal opinion to First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron.
Formal advice was originally commissioned by James Wallace, a lawyer born and raised in Dumfries but currently based in London.
The issue has already caused controversy with the 400,000 Scots living in the rest of the UK excluded from the vote because the Scottish Government decided to choose the Holyrood electoral register.
This means that while Scots who live outside Scotland cannot vote, EU and Commonwealth citizens living in Scotland will get the vote.
The Scottish Government rejected any legal threat.
A spokeswoman said: “The Edinburgh Agreement confirmed that the franchise for the referendum was for the Scottish Parliament to determine, and it is widely accepted that the Edinburgh Agreement has put the referendum beyond effective legal challenge.
“The franchise, which was passed with overwhelming parliamentary support, most closely reflects residency in Scotland and follows the precedent of the 1997 referendum on devolution.”
Mr Clegg also used his speech yesterday to promise to take on “backwards-looking politics” and making the case for membership of the EU. Ahead of the European elections in May, Mr Clegg said: “I love Britain.”
He added: “I love it for all its contradictions. I love that we are as modest as we are proud.
“I love the way we can cherish our traditions yet innovate relentlessly, churning out one ingenious invention after the next – the telephone, the steam engine, the jet engine, the world wide web.
“The same nation that came up with stainless steel is now developing graphene – the strongest material the world has ever seen. Oscar-winning visual effects; cutting-edge design; theatre, fashion, music, film – you name it, we do it, and we’re up there with the best.”
But moving the list on to “liberal values” he added: “I love that our cities are home to every race, religion, colour and language in existence. I love [my wife] Miriam telling me that the feeling of freedom you get in Britain simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.
“I love living in a country synonymous with human rights and the rule of law.”
After his speech, a spokesman said Mr Clegg intends to remain as Lib Dem leader until at least 2020 – whether or not the party is in power.
The Deputy Prime Minister responded to speculation about his future following reports that senior MPs were positioning themselves as possible successors. A spokesman said: “Nick Clegg intends to be the leader of the Liberal Democrats today, tomorrow, into the 2015 election and through the whole of the next parliament.”