DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted that voting No in the Scottish referendum does not mean “no change” for Scotland, as he told the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow that rejecting independence would lead to a better devolution settlement.
Mr Clegg said it was a “false choice” to ask Scots voters to choose between leaving the UK and keeping the status quo.
The Lib Dem leader has promised his party will go into the next General Election on a platform of introducing new powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Clegg said that a No vote on 18 September 2014 would lead to the UK government agreeing a “new settlement for this nation”. The SNP has suggested a No vote would mean calls for new powers will be ignored.
However, Mr Clegg talked about the “tantalising prospect” of home rule for Scotland within the UK as he highlighted Lib Dem plans to devolve more powers to Holyrood.
The Lib Dem home rule commission, headed by former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell, published a report last year including proposals to collect almost all income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax and air passenger duty, but not VAT, alcohol or excise duties, as well as proposing a more federal UK.
Mr Clegg also called for a cross-party deal on delivering improved devolution in the event of a No vote.
He said: “Ming Campbell has recently produced a superb report setting out how we think home rule will work in the future. Our vision is of a proud and strong Scotland, within the United Kingdom, in charge of its own fate but part of a family of nations, too.
“This is a vision shared by many Scots and, increasingly, the other major political parties. Delivering home rule is a tantalising prospect that is now closer than it has been for a generation.
“So let’s get out there to win the referendum in favour of keeping our nations together – and then work with others to deliver the future Scotland wants.”
Mr Clegg went on to invoke what he said was the “good natured rivalry” between Scottish and English rugby fans as part of the strength of the Union.
He said: “I unambiguously, unequivocally want Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. The Nationalists don’t have a monopoly on passion in this debate. I love the way the UK is made up of different peoples, different traditions, different histories.
“I’ve sat in rugby grounds shouting my head off for England while the Scottish fans have shouted back just as loud – and it is a very special thing when good-natured rivalry can flourish side by side with a feeling of affinity and closeness that comes from being a family of nations.
“And on every single level we are stronger together than we are apart.
“We live in uncertain times, in an uncertain world – these are not days to build walls. The decision in a year’s time does not need to be between breaking the bond or keeping the status quo – that’s a false choice. No does not mean no change.”
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore also pledged the Lib Dems “will lead the way in delivering home rule” as he made his own speech to the conference.
The independence referendum in Scotland is the most important political decision in our lifetime, Mr Moore said.
He accused the SNP of changing its position on key issues, and told activists any independent government north of the Border would face higher borrowing costs if it wanted to keep the pound.
Mr Moore said: “On this day, next year, there will be a referendum in Scotland and the question of who we are will be central to it.
“People in Scotland will make the most important political decision of our lifetime.
“Should we stay with this UK family of nations? A family in which we have grown together and achieved so much.
“Or should we take the irreversible step of leaving that family and going it alone? It’s a clear choice: Yes or No.”
With an eye on general election, leader makes case for coalition
Nick Clegg made a deeply personal pitch to be returned to office in the next general election, as he claimed that Liberal Democrat values were needed to keep Britain “on the right track”.
Setting out the message that will drive his campaign for the 2015 poll, little more than 18 months away, Mr Clegg told the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow that only their party can “finish the job of economic recovery, but finish it fairly”.
He told delegates in his keynote speech that it was right for voters to judge him, not only by his record in power, but also by his “values, character and background”.
Mr Clegg also warned that a return to single-party government would be the “absolute worst” outcome of the 2015 poll.
Claiming credit for restraining the more right-wing instincts of his Tory coalition partners, Mr Clegg said Lib Dems have waged an “endless battle” in government, fighting “tooth and nail” to block policies which they found unacceptable, such as inheritance tax cuts, “fire at will” employment laws, regional pay for the public sector and ditching the Human Rights Act.
“What do you think Britain would look like today if the Tories had been alone in Whitehall for the last three years?” he asked.
“What would have happened without Liberal Democrats in this government?”
Although he and Prime Minister David Cameron “try and seek compromise”, he said, “sometimes compromise and agreement isn’t possible and you just have to say No.”
Voters don’t relish prospect of second hung parliament
Only one in ten voters would prefer the next General Election to result in another coalition government, a poll has found as Nick Clegg sought to convince voters it was in the country’s best interests.
More than two thirds (67 per cent) would prefer to see an outright victory by one party.
Even if the election does result in another hung parliament, more than half (51 per cent) would rather see the largest party rule as a minority administration than another power-share, the ComRes poll for ITV showed.
Voters gave a resoundingly negative verdict on the Lib Dems’ contribution to the coalition, with almost twice as many (46 per cent) disagreeing that it had been “good for the country” as agreeing (24 per cent).
Most (51 per cent) also said the Conservatives had benefited more from the power-sharing deal – although that is down ten points since two years ago.
Nor has the public been persuaded yet by the Lib Dems’ efforts to push the message that they have acted as a brake on Tory policy, with voters disagreeing by 32 per cent to 30 per cent that they had “reined in the worst excesses of the Conservative Party”.
While Mr Clegg has been at pains not to indicate any preference of coalition partner should one be required in 2015, the few voters who express a preference lean by a slim margin towards another tie up with the Tories (29 per cent) rather than with Labour (26 per cent).