Nick Clegg has urged voters to return enough Liberal Democrat MPs to act as an “insurance policy” against either Labour or the Tories being held to ransom by the SNP or Ukip.
Launching his party’s manifesto in London, he claimed a “few hundred votes” could make the difference between a “decent, tolerant and generous” government in the centre-ground and a “coalition of grievance” involving either the Nationalists or Nigel Farage.
And he insisted if the Lib Dems were back in coalition they would give “a heart” to Conservatives or “a brain” to Labour.
On the front page of their manifesto, Liberal Democrats listed five key policies which Mr Clegg made clear would be “red lines” in negotiations and would be fought for “tooth and nail” in any coalition government.
Mr Clegg said the policies – balancing the national budget in a fair way, guaranteed education funding “from cradle to college”, an increase to £12,500 in the income tax personal allowance, an £8 billion hike in NHS funding and five green laws to protect the environment – could be summed up in the single word “Opportunity”.
He argued the presence of a good number of Lib Dem MPs in the new House of Commons would help prevent a future government “lurching” to right or left under the influence of Ukip or the SNP.
He said: “Someone is going to hold the balance of power on May 8 and it won’t be David Cameron or Ed Miliband. But it could be Nigel Farage. It could be Alex Salmond. Or it could be me and the Liberal Democrats.
“So ask yourself this, Do you want Nigel Farage walking through the door of No. 10?, Do you want Alex Salmond sat at the cabinet table?, Or do you want the Liberal Democrats?
“The Liberal Democrats will add a heart to a Conservative government and we will add a brain to a Labour one.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon responded by saying the SNP would seek to build “progressive alliances” in parliament for the benefit of people across the UK, adding that Scotland’s voice had too often been “sidelined” in the past by the Westminster parties.
Meanwhile, Mr Farage launched the Ukip manifesto, declaring: “We want our country back.” The party is demanding an early referendum on EU membership, radical cuts in immigration, substantial increases to defence spending and a package of income tax giveaways worth £18bn, paid for in part by cutting money from Scotland’s budget.
Chancellor George Osborne, on a visit to Aberdeenshire, defended Conservative plans to bar Scottish MPs from voting on income tax rates south of the Border as “right and fair”.
He insisted the controversial move, included in the Tories manifesto launched on Tuesday, would not damage the union but would instead create a “stronger Scotland within a stronger UK”.
Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy branded the plan a “brutal betrayal” of the cross-party Smith Commission proposals, which include transferring powers over income tax north of the Border to Holyrood but said Scottish MPs would continue to vote on the UK budget.
Mr Osborne said: “If you have a Scottish rate of income tax, a consequence of that is you have an English rate of income tax and I think it’s only right and fair that English MPs would then have a decisive say over that.
“Of course the whole budget would be voted on by all the UK MPs, including Scottish MPs, and I think that’s a fair arrangement.”
Rennie gets stuck into a feast of fun at city nursery
SCOTTISH Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie joined in the fun when he visited the Early Days Nursery, Palmerston Place in Edinburgh’s West End, to highlight the Lib Dems’ pledge to deliver at least 20 hours of free childcare a week for all parents with children aged two to four and all working parents from the end of paid parental leave at nine months to two years.
Mr Rennie said Scotland had an opportunity to boost childcare support for families and claimed that 60,000 two-year-olds north of the Border would benefit under his party’s plans. He was accompanied on the visit by Mike Crockart, who is bidding to be re-elected as MP in Edinburgh West.
SCOTTISH Labour leader Jim Murphy was today outlining plans to use UK-wide taxes to invest £1 billion in Scotland’s young people. But he claims SNP plans for devo-max would block the investment.
Fox calls for immediate £10-an-hour living wage
AN immediate living wage of £10 an hour, a ban on all zero-hour contracts, public ownership of the energy and rail industries and 100,000 new homes are among the key policies in the Scottish Socialist manifesto launched in Edinburgh.
SSP leader and former Lothian MSP Colin Fox, who is standing in Edinburgh South, said the party also wanted free public transport, votes at 16 for all elections and Trident scrapped.
And on how the programme would be paid for, he said: “The money is there. Britain is the fifth wealthiest country in the world. The answer is we have to redistribute the wealth by raising taxes on the better-off. Ours is a manifesto based on the priorities of the working class millions and not the upper-class millionaires.”