Students threaten Lib Dem vote boycott

Scottish student leaders have told Liberal Democrat MPs north of the Border to vote against raising tuition fees on Thursday or face a voting boycott.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, said raising fees would affect not only English students - their Scottish counterparts would also be worse off, even though the Westminster bill would not directly affect them.

Many Liberal Democrats signed pledges with students before May's general election saying they would not vote to raise fees.

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But after going into coalition with the Tories, they are part of a government in favour of increasing fees.

In the letter to politicians, an edited version of which is in The Scotsman today, Mr Burns describes the U-turn on fees by the party in England as a "betrayal" and a "slap in the face".

Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is tabling the new higher education funding bill on Thursday, previously said he might abstain from the controversial vote.

The coalition deal between the Lib Dems and the Tories allows for such abstentions.

However, Mr Cable later appeared to renege on this and said he would probably vote in favour.

Mr Burns' letter says: "We know that these proposals will have a direct and detrimental impact on Scotland.

"But this is about so much more than just fees. Please do not justify the disillusionment many young people have for modern politics.

"It is nothing less than a slap in the face for us to engage in elections and respond to a personal electoral promise, only to have that promise thrown back in our faces."

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He also warned Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott that he faced a voting boycott by students in next year's Holyrood elections if MSPs did not distance themselves from the policy.

Of Scotland's 11 Lib Dem MPs, only former UK party leaders Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy, who is also the rector of Glasgow University, have declared they will vote against raising tuition fees.

Thousands of students have signed a petition and joined a letter campaign by the NUS on the issue. About 3,000 have printed off a template letter of protest to Lib Dem MPs and MSPs in Scotland.

Tomorrow, students across the UK are set for another day of national action in advance of the vote at Westminster. But some students, including in Scotland, have already begun action.

Yesterday afternoon, a group occupied St Andrews University's Parliament Hall in North Street. The students' association at St Andrews has also started a letter-writing campaign of its own, urging Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, a Liberal Democrat, to vote against the raising of tuition fees.

The university also has 500 signatures on a petition against raising fees in England.

Meanwhile, Dundee University Students' Association announced students would occupy the university's main library building overnight tomorrow.

Students from across Scotland, including from Dundee and Edinburgh universities, will march through the streets of the capital to Holyrood as part of their protests tomorrow.