Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie urged people to “vote intelligently” to prevent the SNP getting a foothold in Westminster.
Launching his manifesto at a cafe in South Queensferry, he also attacked the Conservatives’ proposals for “English votes for English laws”, accusing them of trying to rig the House of Commons to shore up their power.
Mr Rennie said his party was standing on “a record of progress in government and vision of the future”. He said: “We are now closer to our ambition of creating opportunity for everyone. But with wins for the Liberal Democrats in this election we can make it a decade of opportunity.”
Asked whether people should vote tactically to keep the SNP out, he said it was clear that in the 11 Scottish seats held by the Liberal Democrats, they were best-placed to stop the SNP.
He added: “People will use their vote intelligently throughout the country and I would encourage them to do so.”
Mr Rennie said it would be “unreasonable” to put the SNP “in charge of an institution that they are against”.
He continued: “You could just imagine Alex Salmond, deputy prime minister, and as soon as you have turned your back he’s got his screwdriver out trying to take the country apart. That’s not who you need in charge of the UK.”
He said Conservative plans for English votes for English laws has been designed to solely benefit the Tories. “We recognise that the constitution of the UK is evolving but you can’t do a timid reform that doesn’t embrace the necessary wider change,” he said.
The manifesto includes a proposal to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use. Mr Rennie said: “If you look at Portugal, they’ve got a system of commissions so if someone is found in possession they need to go forward to the commission, and if the commission then decide that they need treatment then they are compelled to get that treatment.
“If they then fail to get that treatment programme then there are further penalties, but the first stint is going through rehabilitation. Too often people don’t get the proper rehabilitation in this country.
“But we need to be firm that people that are dealers will have the full force of the law brought down upon them.”
He was joined at the launch by Lib Dem Business Minister Jo Swinson and local candidate Mike Crockart, who is seeking re-election in Edinburgh West. Mr Crockart said: “This is a manifesto for a generation of opportunity. From measures like expanding the remit of the Green Investment Bank to ensure that Scotland remains at the forefront of the low-carbon revolution to expanding childcare for two-year-olds, the Lib Dem manifesto balances the books whilst creating opportunity for everyone.
“One of the top concerns is the pressure on our NHS. The Liberal Democrats have put forward a plan to investment the £800 million that our NHS needs. In particular, mental health services for children and young people are at breaking point. In NHS Lothian only 54 per cent of those young people referred for treatment started it within the 18-week target time.
“The money we will invest means that each young person who needs help will get it quickly and locally.”
IFS warns of £9bn devo max shortfall
NEW figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies show a shortfall of nearly £9 billion in Scotland’s finances by 2020 under SNP plans for devo max.
Previous calculations by the IFS indicated a £7.6bn deficit if Scotland had full responsibility for tax and spending this year – a figure dismissed by the SNP as irrelevant.
But the latest projections suggest the “fiscal gap” would increase rather than shrink over the next few years, leaving a shortfall which would only be made up if growth in Scotland were double that predicted for the UK as a whole.
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale, said: “The SNP’s manifesto means they have signed up to massive spending cuts that would make even the Tories blush.”
And Scottish Tory enterprise spokesman Murdo Fraser said the SNP plans would create a “black hole” which “keeps getting deeper”.
But SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said the figures showed the deficit almost halving as a share of GDP from 8.6 per cent to 4.6 per cent by the end of the decade, without factoring in measures to boost the economy. He said: “Scotland has robust finances. The
Westminster parties are doing themselves no good by constantly talking down Scotland’s financial abilities.”
Sturgeon challenge on NHS funding
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will be campaigning in Edinburgh today, calling on Labour to match the SNP’s commitment to boosting the NHS budget across the UK.
The SNP has said it will use any influence it has at Westminster after the election to press for the NHS budget to be increased by £24 billion across the UK – £9.5bn above inflation – meaning a total increase for Scotland’s NHS of £2bn.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Our NHS is our most important public resource – and the SNP will do everything we can to ensure that it properly funded and protected as a public service.
“The SNP’s plans for modest public spending increases would give our NHS staff the support they need and ensure our health service continues to deliver a first-class service for patients – Labour in Scotland now need to back our plans on the health service or explain to people why they are more committed to cuts than to our NHS.”
Greens use Muir day
The Scottish Greens fittingly used John Muir Day – the anniversary of the birth in East Lothian of the world-famous conservationist – to highlight manifesto pledges on the environment.