Willie Rennie to appeal to those ‘let down’ by SNP

Willie Rennie with national Lib Dem leader Tim Farron at Holyrood. Picture: Neil Hanna
Willie Rennie with national Lib Dem leader Tim Farron at Holyrood. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will today make a direct appeal to independence supporters to back his party at next year’s ­Holyrood elections.

And he is expected to set out a new policy package intended to boost services and support public sector workers.

I recognise that many liberal-minded people have supported independence

Willie Rennie

In a speech to the Scottish Lib Dem conference in Dunfermline, he will urge Yes voters who feel “let down” by the SNP’s record in government to elect more Lib Dems to the Scottish Parliament.

The party has five MSPs and is aiming to double that number next May. But with polls predicting the SNP will win most of the constituency seats, the Lib Dems face a battle with Labour, the Conservatives and the Greens for regional list seats.

Last month, Mr Rennie said Lib Dems were free to take different views about independence despite the party’s involvement in the Better Together campaign at the referendum.

Today, he will tell conference delegates: “My commitment to the United Kingdom remains as strong as ever. No-one should ever doubt that. But I recognise that many liberal-minded people have supported independence.

“As a consequence many then felt compelled to back the Nationalists even if they were unhappy about the performance of the SNP in government.

“I want them to know they now have another option. I want to make a direct plea to supporters of independence today: if you want to fix the problems facing your local GP surgery; if you want to end industrial-scale stop-and-search on our streets; if you want to put the treatment of mental ill health on an equal footing with physical health; if you want all these things then try out the Liberal Democrats.

“That is the choice – five years for health, five years for education, five years for freedom and liberties with the Liberal Democrats – or five years of another referendum campaign with the Nationalists.”

The conference will also hear from UK Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.

And it will debate calls for the Lib Dems to fight next year’s election on a platform proposing to use new powers for Holy­rood to impose a 1p increase in income tax to boost spending on the NHS.

The SNP campaigned in the very first Scottish Parliament elections in 1999 advocating a “Penny for Scotland” – using the original, more restricted income tax powers to increase the basic rate by 1p – but the policy appeared not to be too popular, leaving the SNP with just 35 out of 129 seats.

But Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem candidate for Edinburgh Western, said the Nationalists’ experience would not deter his party from being prepared to put up income tax if that was necessary to deal with the NHS funding crisis.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “We’re not going to set our policy based on what other parties have tried to do.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com