The Malcolm Bruce interview, Part 1 on the Liberal Democrats’ achievements in Government and how the SNP’s promises are undeliverable

malcolm-bruce-2This morning I dropped an email to our new Deputy Leader, Sir Malcolm Bruce MP, asking him if I could have a chat with him so that our readers could get to know him. He called me this afternoon and we chatted for nearly half an hour. We talked about how he sees his new role, how to get more women into Parliament, the European elections, his role as chair of the Select Committee on International Development and the Scottish Independence referendum taking place later this year.

Malcolm Bruce was elected as an MP at my first election in 1983. Since then, I’ve followed his career as Scottish leader, holder of just about every economic spokesmanship, Scottish Party President, Select Committee Chairman  and senior backbencher. I also often spent a bit of time with him in various soft play and other baby-looking- after places at Conferences as our daughters are the same age.

Malcolm is standing down at the next election which, he says, gives him time to help our overall election effort. He’d thought about standing for Deputy Leader when Simon Hughes first became a minister. He contemplated it over Christmas. After  talking to colleagues  in the New Year, he decided to throw his hat into the ring. While  many wrote off his chances, he knew the result would be close when he went in to the hustings last night. As it happens, he pipped Lorely Burt by a handful of votes. So, what does he want to achieve as Deputy Leader?

The best possible election result we can get. By going into government we have transformed ourselves to a party of government with competence and experience. We have made the difference.  The recovery would not have happened without us. We’ve cut taxes for millions of people, and we’ve boosted pensions. In a difficult situation we’ve done things fairly and we’ve been able to moderate some of the things the Conservatives would have done on their own. This is not a Conservative Government, it’s a Coalition Government.

We need to get across that if people want the recovery to continue, we don’t want it to be blown away by Labour who would revert to its bad old ways. We don’t want the divisiveness of the Conservatives who threaten our membership of the EU and we don’t want the UK destroyed by nationalists.

Actually, you should recognise the Liberal Democrats are a grown up party with experience of government who have delivered and have more to offer. Having us there in government, in parliament, matters. That’s the big counter to the “what’s the point, they’ve sold out” all that kind of stuff. We need to bang the positives, the difference we’ve made and why we’re there.

We recognise we’ve had to take tough choices and it’s been bumpy and not everyone’s always been happy but looking beyond that we really have begun to deliver. It’s really thanks to us and we must ensure we’re part of that process.

I can personally say about the raising of the tax threshold, I launched that in 1997. The pensions policy the very word triple-lock is a Liberal Democrat probably conference policy word. It didn’t come from outside this party. We need to show people out there why it’s in their interests to keep us in a position of influence and power after the election. That’s what we’re for.

Obviously that means working with all the interest groups that matter in the party to try and get that message across.

Before the election, though, we have the referendum on Scottish independence. Did he feel that his new role gave him a new platform to take part in that debate?  He reckoned his economic experience could complement all the good things that Alistair Carmichael, Michael Moore and Willie Rennie are bringing to the debate.

Currency conditions would make SNP’s promises undeliverable

Mark Carney has been up in Edinburgh meeting Alex Salmond today, talking about the potential for a currency union between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. Malcolm said he’d been disappointed with the way the arguments on the subject had been presented by both sides on the Today programme.

We have a currency union now. If you vote for independence you jeopardise it. If you then want to negotiate to continue that union it may be possible but it will take time, negotiation and will involve conditions. You can’t expect the rest of the UK to agree to an independent Scotland using the pound without having a say on the tax base, the spend base and the deficit which they are being asked to underwrite. The truth therefore is it’s almost certain that the conditions would make most of the promises the SNP are trying to make undeliverable.

The point that has to be made, therefore is that the SNP are trying to imply that you can go seamlessly from where you are to a different place without any change. That is not the real world.

But what happens if they can’t do a deal on using the pound?

We have to recognise that the SNPs strategy is to blandly say  “it’s common sense, it’s a no-brainer, in the end it’ll be all right.” They need to understand that goodwill may go out of the window. The rest of the UK is not going to indulge a Scotland that’s decided to leave and it’s not going to allow Scotland to go off on a financial frolic on its own, underwritten by the rest of the UK, without any conditions or constraints. So in some ways Scotland would be in a weaker position in terms of its economic management if it was independent than it is in  the UK.

If you have a Plan B, which they don’t, but you’re forced into it because you cannot get the deal you want,  therefore you know your promises are undeliverable, you try to relaunch the groat where you’ve got no central bank with any track record, or anybody in it, the currency’s new and you’ve started your arrangement with a default.  Then try and raise bonds on the stock market. Scotland would be bankrupt within weeks.

That’s the sort of thing they call scaremongering, isn’t it?

They call it scaremongering. What they are trying to do is panglossian, you know.  Everything will be the best of all possible worlds, just don’t you worry your pretty little heads, it’ll be fine.

This is a hard, tough real world. We’re up against the Africans,  Brazilians, Indians and Chinese all trying to take a piece of the action and fragmenting and weakening ourselves from working together is absolutely the best way to give them the best pickings and leave us fighting for the crumbs.

In Part 2, you can find out what he said about the European elections, women in politics and his international development work.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Plain, straight-talking common sense, sensibly put. Admirable. (I am English)

  • The results of the vote are up at,_2014 – they make interesting reading.

  • It is fascinating the the new deputy leader of the lib ems believes that the Scots, his own people, are the only country on the planet too ill-equipped to run their own affairs. “Scotland will be bankrupt within weeks”. UKOK rhetoric is now approaching a constant scream of “You cannae dae it”, with no honest or rational arguments being made, and no positive vision being presented for Scotland after a no vote. It is hardly surprising the polls are moving rapidly to Yes.

  • Paul In Twickenham 4th Feb '14 - 6:55am

    As I’ve said on this site before, there is absolutely nothing to stop an independent Scottish Parliament from creating a currency and pegging it to the pound sterling – this is not at all unusual, for example both the Swiss Franc and the Danish Crown are pegged against the Euro.

    And indeed there isn’t a whole lot that the English government could do if the Scottish chose to use Sterling as its legal tender – again there is precedent for example the legal tender currency in Ecuador is the US dollar.

    Both of these involve the risk of an independent Scotland falling into a Fisherite debt/deflation spiral but the loss of sovereignty would be less than that of Greece, for example, since a peg level can be adjusted just as Wilson did in 1967 when he changed the peg rate of the pound from $2.80 to $2.40 (and paid for it later at the ballot box).

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