By Bob Duncan
Nick Clegg is only worried about the political cost of his U-turn on student fees, not the financial price for students, say the SNP who responded to the Lib Dem leader’s apology over his party’s tuition fee U-turn.
The nationalists attacked the announcement claiming it was no more than crocodile tears aimed at placating party insiders close to the Lib Dem Autumn Conference.
A solemn promise was made by Mr Clegg and the Liberal Democrats during the campaign for 2010’s Westminster General Election. Mr Clegg’s U-turn on the policy, once in power, is widely regarded as key to his party’s catastrophic loss of support in subsequent elections.
The “No easy way to say this” video, released by the Lib Dems yesterday, features Nick Clegg apologising for making the pledge not to raise tuition fees, but not for then breaking the pledge once in power. The video, which will be shown during next week’s Lib Dem conference, has been widely criticised as ‘cynical’ and as having rendered Lib Dem politicians ‘untrustworthy’.
Since its release on You-tube, many new versions of the ‘sorry’ video have been added, including one with ‘honesty subtitles’ and another in which Clegg sings his apology, courtesy of an autotuner.
Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, said of Mr Clegg: “This was not just the small print of his manifesto, this was Nick Clegg’s key election promise when he asked people to vote for his party. It is not good enough for him to just brush that promise aside.
“Instead of crying crocodile tears he should vote with Labour to bring these tuition fees down. If Nick Clegg does not back his words with action he is just weak and spineless.”
However, Ms Harman’s criticism has rebounded on Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont who performed a similar tuition fee U-turn after the Scottish elections.
In a reversal in early May, after being elected as Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont claimed that the Scottish government’s policy of no tuition fees was damaging Scottish education and was holding back some of Scotland’s most talented youngsters.
This was despite no tuition fees being one of Scottish Labour’s key manifesto commitments during the last Holyrood elections in May 2011, when Ms Lamont was Deputy leader. Since then Ms Lamont has pledged to re-introduce tuition fees if Labour regain power in Scotland.
Despite the U-turn, a webpage displaying an image of Ms Lamont accompanying a commitment to free education was still being displayed on Scottish Labour’s official website yesterday. The page displays a large banner image proclaiming “No price tag on education” and promises Labour’s commitment to “No up-front or back-end tuition fees for Scottish students”.
The SNP has claimed that both the Lib Dems and Ms Lamont’s U-turn has left the SNP as the only major party which remains committed to resisting tuition fees for students.
According to a senior SNP Spokesman, the pre-conference apology by Nick Clegg, followed by an admission from Vince Cable that senior Lib Dems were long ‘sceptical’ about a tuition fees pledge, demonstrates again how nobody can trust a word Westminster politicians say.
SNP MP Pete Wishart said:
“This is just a cynical pre-conference apology from the Lib Dems. Nick Clegg is only concerned because his party is paying an electoral price – not because students are paying the financial price of his fee betrayal. It’s an example of how no-one can trust a word Westminster politicians say.
“As Tavish Scott said, the ‘Scottish Lib Dems were dragged into the political gutter’ as a result of the parties Westminster u-turn on student fees.
“Thank goodness in Scotland we have an SNP Government that believes access to universities and colleges should be based solely on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.
“These latest figures show the stark contrast between the huge damage being done by tuition fees south of the border and Scotland’s commitment to free education.
“More and more people are being put off studying at institutions in the rest of the UK and the reason is quite clearly the sky-high tuition fees that students face because of decisions by the Westminster government.
“Unlike the Westminster parties who have broken their promises to students once in power, the SNP is the only major party in Scotland never to have voted for tuition fees – and these figures explain why this is so important.
“Thank goodness that decisions about Scotland’s Higher Education are already effectively independent – otherwise Scotland would currently be facing the same devastating decline in applications that the Tories are causing south of the Border.”