Opinion: Scottish Liberal Democrats’ ambitious manifesto plans to create 100,000 jobs

Scottish Liberal Democrats wear their heart on their manifesto wordle

On Tuesday I was lucky enough to be invited along to the launch of the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto which took place in the beautiful town of Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders.

The venue, Caerlee Mill, had been chosen to highlight key pledges to boost business and economic growth, but, as the BBC’s Brian Taylor said, “The venue had been chosen to symbolise economic renewal – but, on the day, it also spotlighted the concept of triumph over adversity.”

There are three main themes to the manifesto. When leader Tavish Scott was asked about coalition talk red lines, his pithy response was to point these out on the front cover:

  • Jobs and economic growth – investment to create a science nation, giving superfast broadband to the many businesses across Scotland who can’t yet get it and support for small businesses from new Regional Development Banks to replace the confusing network of quangos which have been known to pass businesses from pillar to post without giving them the help they need;
  • Excellence in education – a pupil premium, more power to head teachers, more flexible post 16 options;
  • Keeping services local – saying no to a single Scottish Police Force and Fire service and plans to centralise social work budgets

Central to our plans to boost the economy is a one off cash windfall from refinancing Scottish Water’s accumulated debt through a bond issue, so it repays the£1.5 billion it owes the Scottish public purse. It would still remain in public ownership as a public benefit corporation.  The Party calculates that 100,000 jobs could be created by enacting the measures in the manifesto.

The party is passionately opposed to the political power grab planned by Labour, SNP and Conservatives. First they plan to merge Scotland’s 8 police forces into a single national organisation headed by a Chief Constable in Glasgow or Edinburgh.  Such a move would make that Chief Constable and the Justice Secretary far too powerful. It would be like having all policing operational matters in England,  from Greater Manchester to rural Devon to the Norfolk coast being controlled by a London based Commissioner and the Home Secretary.

The other parties also plan to centralise social care – but  Tavish Scott was very clear that, on his watch, “your granny’s care package will not be determined by bureaucrats in Edinburgh.”

The principles of the Pupil Premium, the Liberal Democrat policy now introduced in England, are included in the Scottish Early Intervention Revolution Fund to help those children who need it most.

Finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis gave some chilling figures about Scotland’s 600,000 10 year olds. If we carry on as we do at the moment, he said, 1 in 5 of them, 120,000 kids, would end up not in education or employment. Tavish Scott talked about action to ensure that those young people fulfilled their potential was vital and required much more thought than simply a Dutch auction on numbers of apprenticeships like we’re seeing from the other parties. The party intends to give more vocational options to 14-16 year olds to ensure that their potential is reached.

The party also intends to abolish the Council Tax for the poorest pensioners, a move paid for by cutting the pay bill of the highest earners in the public sector by 10%. The idea is that no pensioner with an income of less than £10,000 would pay any Council Tax at all. This is a logical extension of the Party’s policy at UK level to make the tax system fairer.

This was the first time I’d seen Tavish and Jeremy in a room with a crowd of journalists who wanted to trip them up. They dealt with all the questions so professionally and seriously, looking very grown up when compared  to the heated hyperbole we get from the SNP and Labour.

The manifesto contains some very substantial and sensible solutions to the problems facing Scotland at the moment. It attracted some very positive comment both from journalists and various organisations:

The Scotsman said our proposals were “bold”, “honest”, “sound” on support for business and, on Scottish Water, “an idea whose time has come”.

The journalist Hamish McDonnell told Radio Scotland that the manifesto was “a clever manifesto. It has done, or is starting to do, what the Lib Dems need it to. I think it’s a good manifesto; it’s got a good theme.”

The Federation of Small Businesses said it, “welcomes the drive to make business regulation more proportionate”.

WWF Scotland said, “The Liberal Democrat manifesto contains many commitments that would help secure a low-carbon future for Scotland,” and “we particularly welcome the strong commitments to introduce minimum standards of energy efficiency for homes”.

The charity Children in Scotland said, “Children in Scotland welcomes today’s commitment by the Liberal Democrats to significant investment in early years services and believes this is a move in the right direction”.

Now that the manifestos are out in the open, the phoney war that has gone on in the 2 weeks since the Scottish Parliament was dissolved is over and it’s to be hoped that the issues can be debated seriously over the next four weeks.

You can read the whole manifesto here.

Posted as part of  Caron Lindsay’s Elections, Referendums and Lib Dem Achievements Guest Editor Day

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11 Comments

  • It’s actually a reasonably good manifesto. Shame you’re unlikely to have enough MSPs after the election to affect anything in the new parliament one way or the other.

  • Ed Townsend Caron Lindsay 7th Apr '11 - 12:38pm

    Long way to go before polling day, Iain. We’ve been written off before. Everyone thought we’d lose our MEP in 2009 and a good chunk of our MPs last year.

  • The SNP manifesto still isn’t out – reports last night on Five Live suggested that it might be issued on Thursday next week but SNP still hadn’t confirmed it.

    Given the last four years, the cynic in me thinks that they need more time to come up with policies other than “we want to be independent”…..

  • I see the Lib Dems are ruling out tuition fees and a graduate contribution in Scotland

    Is this a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, or have you really learned nothing from the collapse in your polls since May 2010?

  • Ed Townsend Caron Lindsay 7th Apr '11 - 4:24pm

    G, the debate in Scotland is in a very different place thanks to the Liberal Democrats ensuring that Labour’s tuition fees weren’t brought in up here in 1999.

    In England, both Labour and the Tories are committed to fees and against 550 of them, there wasn’t a lot that 57 of us could do. However, what we did do was ensure a system that meant that people on £21000 pay a lot less – £84 a month less – than they did under Labour’s system. Imperfect? Yes, I’ll give you that, but we did the best we could in the circumstances.

  • @Caron Lindsay

    Labour voted against the increase in tuition fees, if Lib Dem MPs had upheld their pre-election pledge then the increase would have been defeated. And Labout never cut the research adn teaching budgets, infact they increased them.

    But this is besides the point. The Scottish Lib Dems appear to have a wholly different policy on fees than their Westminster colleagues. Is this opportunism or principle? Because if it is the former then you have learned nothing from the collapse in your vote, and if it is the latter then are your leaders unprincipled?

  • Has Jeremy Purvis got in touch with the Treasury yet to ensure that any cash from the Scottish Water plans will not be nabbed by them? He seemed strangely reluctant to say whether he had on Newsnicht a couple of nights ago.

  • Ed Townsend Caron Lindsay 7th Apr '11 - 6:33pm

    G, have you never heard of devolution?

    And Labour have serious form on the issue of tuition fees – they said they wouldn’t introduce them and then did. They said the wouldn’t introduce top up fees and then did. And I have no doubt that had they been in Government they would have implemented it in full rather than tried to make it fairer as we did.

    @john Mc It’s all about returning debt to where it comes from. The whole thing will net about £2.75 billion of which £1.5 billion that’s due to the Scottish Consolidated Fund. I don’t know what Newsnight Interview you were watching, because he seemed pretty clear on that point to me.

  • @Caron Lindsay

    Believe it or not in the last Scottish elections I voted Lib Dem. I’m well aware that in Scottish elections parties are sometimes at odds with their MPs in Westminster. However, I cannot think of a previous situation where there has been such a profound split between the two on an matter of significant importance as the Lib Dems on tuition fees. This isn’t about what Labour might have done, this is about what you have done and what you say you will do. If your Westminster MPs, including several Scottish ones, hold one view on Higher Education funding, and your MSPs quite the opposite then the voter is quite entitled to ask what on earth is going on?

    The days of being able to have your cake and eat it are over.

    PS How on earth are you going to pay for this? The budget is set by Westminster and cuts to HE there affect Scottish funding directly. Where is the extra money coming from? The sums are absent from your manifesto. Can you see how it might look like you are engaging in vapid populism in an attempt to stop the bottom falling out of your vote?

  • Andrew Duffield 7th Apr '11 - 11:31pm

    “…grants of up to £10,000 to home-owners who bring homes back into use…”

    Madness. Why not a TAX of £10,000 for home-owners who DON’T bring homes back into use? Why on earth are we proposing to use taxpayers’ money to subsidise lazy landlords and boost the value of their speculative holdings when we could use the tax system to encourage them to fund the necessary improvements themselves and raise public revenue at the same time. Those rentiers that didn’t want to play ball would soon sell up and their empty properties would be forced back onto the market at no cost – indeed a SURPLUS – to the public purse.

  • Hilarious to see the Lib Dems promising no tuition fees for Scottish students. Who said comedy was dead?
    If your party can have different policies in England and Scotland, then how come you are so keen on preserving the Union?
    If you don’t want cuts and centralisation of policing and care services (who does?) then don’t be so enthusiastic supporting the Westminster government’s budget cuts.
    The bottom line is that, since last May, there has been no point to the Lib Dems. Scottish Lib Dems (Carmichael, Alexander, Moore) were instrumental in negotiatiing the deal that led to the party supporting the Tory assault on the welfare state and the effective merger of the leading clique of the party with the Conservatives. Tavish Scott is a bewildered figure, spending a great deal of his time contradicting mainstream Lib Dem policy and even himself. I can think of reasons why someone would want to vote Tory, Labour, Green, Nationalist – even UKIP – but I’m damned if I can see a reason to vote Lib Dem.

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