SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: The SNP is trying to create a form of devolution which will be “a ticking timebomb designed to deliver independence”, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has warned.
In his speech to the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow on Sunday, Mr Rennie compared the nationalists to Gollum from Lord of the Rings, “torn apart by the lust for independence”.
His attack came as Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael demanded SNP leader-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon honours the Edinburgh Agreement and rules out a rapid second independence referendum. Otherwise, businesses could flee Scotland because of constitutional uncertainty, claimed Mr Carmichael.
Their twin attack on Ms Sturgeon came after she wrote an article for the Scottish Left Review claiming independence was now a matter of “when, not if”.
She said: “There is no going back – and much as they might have wanted to, Whitehall politicians and mandarins cannot put us back in a devolved box.
“The word ‘devolution’ is no longer adequate, for that describes a process of handing down carefully circumscribed powers from on high to a relatively passive people.
“Scotland is now more politically engaged and assertive than at any stage of the democratic era.”
In his speech, Mr Rennie also warned that the outcome of the referendum meant “Britain will never be the same again”.
He went on: “I can assure you that the Liberal Democrats will never support a nationalist effort to create an unstable form of devolution as a ticking timebomb deliberately designed to deliver independence.”
He gave the SNP a “test” as it enters the Smith Commission on the new powers for Holyrood with the Scottish Greens, Labour, Lib Dems and Tories.
He said: “Will they be like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, torn apart by the lust for the ring of independence, or will they work constructively with others to create home rule that is stable as well as powerful, inside the United Kingdom?
“If they fail this test, the message to the voters would be clear: if you vote a nationalist to your parliament, don’t be surprised if they do nationalist things. Don’t be surprised if they continue to use every living moment to plot the break-up of the UK; don’t be surprised if they Hoover up powers from across the country into their grasp and control; don’t be surprised if they blame London for all our ills even when they have the powers in their hands.
“That’s what they have done for 80 years – same old, same old.”
In a personal attack, he asked for “the real Nicola Sturgeon to stand up”, claiming that as Deputy First Minister she had contradicted herself.
He said: “She’s a fan of Birgitte Nyborg, the liberal prime minister from the TV series Borgen. But how liberal is Nicola? There are signs of promise. She piloted equal marriage through parliament but then she shared a platform with [clause 28 supporter] Brian Soutar.
“She proclaims powerful human rights but then she defended our First Minister’s refusal to meet the Dalai Lama. Is Nicola a Borgen liberal or a Salmond nationalist? The moment of truth is here.”
Mr Carmichael also warned “there will be no second referendum” and called on Ms Sturgeon to “take this moment to uphold the Edinburgh Agreement” and respect the result of the referendum. He said the experience of the threat of another referendum in Quebec – after independence from Canada was defeated narrowly in 1995 – had seen the financial services leave Montreal. He said: “Jobs seeped out of Montreal and flowed elsewhere because the issue of Quebec’s future remained in doubt.
“Montreal used to be the home to Canada’s financial services sector – just as Edinburgh is here – but eventually the constitutional uncertainty drove them out of Montreal. I do not want to see the same thing happen here.” He added: “The threat of a second referendum would not only distort Scottish politics but undermine the case for business and jobs here, too.”
Calling on Ms Sturgeon to clarify her position, he said: “There is still time for her to clarify that she will push for no such thing. And I hope that she will take that opportunity. Not just because it is in her own interests to begin as First Minister by keeping her word and not breaking it, but because it is in the broader interests of Scotland to cast off the uncertainty and be clear about the future.”
He also attacked the Tories for trying to link more devolution to Scotland with English votes for English laws. He said: “David Cameron used the moment [of the referendum victory] to seize the initiative on English votes for English laws and to embarrass the Labour Party.
“It is just what you expect from the leader of the Conservative Party, although I expected a little more from the Prime Minister. And for the likes of Michael Gove then to suggest that the all-party pledge on more powers was contingent on getting a deal on English votes was an act of political and constitutional recklessness.”
But SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said: “The SNP stands up for the people of Scotland and we will continue to do so as we hold the Westminster parties to account on their vow to deliver extensive new powers for the Scottish Parliament. That is why latest polls show 42 per cent of people would put their trust in the SNP while the Lib Dems struggle to get past 5 per cent.”
Turning to Mr Carmichael’s speech, he said: “The Lib Dems made a vow to deliver extensive new powers to the people of Scotland; it is time for them to honour that.
“Instead of empty words free of vision for Scotland’s future, Alistair Carmichael, Willie Rennie and Danny Alexander should be focusing their efforts on ensuring their Tory chums keep their promises on powers. In the past week we have seen Tory talk of three-year delays and attempts to hold Scotland’s powers to ransom over English votes for English laws. This is not good enough.
Forty-five per cent of people voted Yes to independence and the other 55 per cent were told by the No campaign they were voting for home rule.”
Mr Maxwell said the Lib Dems broke their pledge on scrapping tuition fees and could not be trusted on more powers in Holyrood: “Scotland is waiting for new powers and the pressure is on for the Westminster parties to keep their promises. Any attempt to backtrack will not wash and any party seen to be doing so will pay a heavy price at the ballot box.”