Willie Rennie: Lib Dems free to back independence

Willie Rennie has said that Liberal Democrats can campaign for independence. Picture: Greg Macvean
Willie Rennie has said that Liberal Democrats can campaign for independence. Picture: Greg Macvean
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SENIOR Liberal Democrat politicians will be free to campaign for Scottish independence in the event of another referendum, party leader Willie Rennie has said.

It comes after Labour leader Kezia Dugdale revealed that Labour MSPs and MPs would be allowed to back a Yes vote if the question of leaving the UK was put to Scots again.

The Lib Dems were at the heart of the pro-Union Better Together campaign during the referendum which also included the Conservatives and Labour.

But Mr Rennie insisted many within in his party have already spoken out in favour of independence and would be free to do so in future.

“We’re liberals - if we can’t be tolerant about people taking different views on the constitution, what can we be tolerant about?” Mr Rennie told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland yesterday.

“We’ve always adopted that approach - if members want to speak up for independence in our party, they’ve always been perfectly entitled to do so.

“In fact many of them do and I congratulate them for sticking to their principles on that.”

The Liberal Democrats’ formal policy is for a federal UK, but Mr Rennie insisted that he was in charge of the constitutional position north of the border.

“We decide our policy in Scotland on these issues,” he added.

“This is up to us, this is not to London to decide on these issues.

“It’s quite clear that if people in the Liberal Democrats want to adopt a different position, they’re perfectly entitled to do so. In fact they do that every single day of the week.”

Ms Dugdale said her MPs and MSPs would be free to campaign for a Yes vote, because she wanted Yes voters to feel that they have a “home” in the Labour party. About one in three of the party’s voters from 2010 backed independence last year.

But it prompted a warning from former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish that it could advance the cause of independence.

Political opponents last night claimed that the latest intervention underlines the confusion among pro-Union ranks over the constitution.

A spokesman for the SNP said: “It seems like the total confusion in Labour’s ranks on independence has spread to their Lib Dem Better Together colleagues.

“After allying with the Tories during the referendum campaign and for five years in government, it’s no wonder voters in Scotland have completely deserted them - and are putting their trust in the SNP to stand up for Scotland.”

The prospect of a second referendum has been raised after Nicola Sturgeon recently announced that the SNP’s manifesto for next year’s Holyrood election would include the provision for another vote on leaving the UK, including potential “triggers” for this.

The latest poll of polls published by Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University last week suggested that Scots are now split down the middle 50-50 on the issue of Scottish independence.

The SNP also appears to be heading for a second overall majority in next May’s Holyrood vote. A poll last week by TNS found that the Nationalists are on 58 per cent of the constituency vote, with Labour on just 23 per cent. The Liberal Democrats are struggling on 5 per cent, well behind the Conservatives who polled 12 per cent.