by a Newsnet reporter
LibDem Treasury chief Danny Alexander has been accused of inhabiting a ‘parallel universe’ after he accused the Scottish government of being a ‘threat to the national interest’ and of being ‘enemies of growth’.
Mr Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and one of the most high profile Liberal Democrats in alliance with Conservatives in the Cabinet, launched the attack during his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat party conference yesterday.
In a clumsy sideswipe in which he lumped the traditionally pro-EU SNP in with the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservatives and UKIP, Mr Alexander accused the SNP of damaging the economic recovery and threatening that he would not allow the “nationalists to frustrate our national interest”.
Mr Alexander did not specify what measures he might take against the SNP, but in the previous week had threatened the Scottish government with a month on month ‘fine’ of some £8.5 million should the SNP not fall into line with Conservative plans to cut public sector pensions.
In an attempt to portray the SNP as isolationists, Mr Alexander said: “Sadly, eurosceptics on left and right still fail to understand Winston Churchill’s insight that sharing sovereignty strengthens our influence and isolation weakens us. Scottish Nationalists make the same mistake.
“We’ll never let the anti-European isolationists or nationalists frustrate our national interest – they are enemies of growth.”
Mr Alexander’s speech followed comments earlier in the day in which he attacked the economic policies of the SNP government by repeating his claim that the SNP proposal to devolve control of corporation tax to Holyrood was damaging Scotland’s economy.
He said: “Every time you look, the SNP are making life harder for companies trading across both Scotland and England.
“Proposals for separate corporation tax and regulation together with complete uncertainty over the answers on independence just add to the costs of successful business.”
Responding to Mr Alexander’s remarks, the Scottish National Party stepped up the campaign for the Tory / Lib Dem Westminster coalition to introduce an economic alternative – a ‘Plan MacB’, as outlined by First Minister Alex Salmond last week – which focuses on increased capital expenditure, improved access to finance for medium and small sized businesses, and the introduction of measures to boost consumer confidence and economic security.
Scotland’s Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “Danny Alexander must be living in a parallel universe. The reality is the exact opposite of his silly jibe – the SNP Government are building recovery in Scotland, and it is the Tory / Lib Dem coalition which is smothering economic growth.
“The SNP Government are delivering a ‘Plan MacB’, which is cutting unemployment in Scotland while it rises in every other part of the UK, and it is vital that the Tory / Lib Dem coalition at Westminster follows the Scottish lead – otherwise there is a real risk that they will derail our recovery.
“There is no doubt that in their heart of hearts that vast majority of Lib Dem delegates agree with the SNP, and know that the ‘Plan MacB’ approach is the right one for England as well as Scotland. That is why we have already had five former Lib Dem councillors switching to the SNP, and why their vote has collapsed all over Scotland.
“There should be a Lib Dem delegate revolt in Birmingham in favour of ‘Plan MacB’ – increased capital expenditure, improved access to finance for medium and small sized businesses, and the introduction of measures to boost consumer confidence and economic security. That is what is working in Scotland, and the UK Government needs to adopt it now.”
Figures published last week showed that Scotland is the only nation of the UK where unemployment fell in the latest quarter, May-July 2011. During this three-month period, unemployment in Scotland fell by 3,000 to 7.5 per cent, compared to a UK-wide increase of 80,000 to 7.9 per cent. Over the year, Scottish unemployment has fallen by 33,000, while UK levels increased by 44,000.
Scottish employment increased by 23,000 to 71.6 per cent in the latest quarter. Again, Scotland is outperforming the UK, where employment fell by 69,000 and the employment rate decreased 70.5 per cent during May-July 2011. Over the year, Scottish employment rose by 36,000 – encompassing the entire 24,000 figure for the aggregate employment increase in the UK as a whole.
The figures were backed by today’s Bank of Scotland report on the Scottish economy that said the Scottish jobs market is in very good shape.
Meanwhile, First Minister Alex Salmond has responded to a claim by Danny Alexander that the majority of constituents in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey supported the Conservative Lib Dem coalition government. Mr Alexander made the claim during an interview on the BBC prior to making his speech to the Lib Dem party conference.
Commenting on Mr Alexander’s assertion, Mr Salmond said: “For Danny Alexander to claim that people in his constituency support the coalition with the Tories, after the Lib Dem wipe-out in the Highlands and across Scotland in May’s election, shows that he has been reduced to a state of complete panic.
“On the day that Danny Alexander’s Lib Dem colleagues say they are having to fight ‘ruthless’ and ‘extreme’ forces in the Tory Party – and the day after former Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott wrote that their coalition with the Tories has dragged them into the ‘political gutter’ – Mr Alexander’s claims of constituency support for the coalition is the sign of someone losing touch with political reality.
“The pressure of acting as the front man for the Tories in Scotland is clearly proving too much for Danny Alexander.
“The Lib Dems are trapped in the maw of the Conservative Party – and the Tories are devouring the Lib Dems, just as they always do for those who fall into their grip.”
During the most recent elections held in Mr Alexander’s constituency, the May election for Holyrood, the Liberal Democrats failed to secure a single consituency seat and saw their vote share drop to a historic low. The Lib Dem’s Holyrood MSP total fell from 16 to just 5.