By a Newsnet reporter
The Lib Dems are facing accusations of having no understanding of Scottish priorities as it emerged that the party is to use its forthcoming UK conference, taking place in Scotland, to back policies overwhelmingly opposed by people in Scotland.
The published agenda for their UK conference, to be held in Glasgow next month, shows that the LibDems are set to back tuition fees, a new nuclear weapons system, and nuclear power plants – despite polls which show few in Scotland support any of these.
The Lib Dem conference agenda praises the current system of Higher Education funding that includes tuition fees south of the border as “the best deal for students and taxpayers currently available”, ignoring the fact that students resident in Scotland pay no tuition fees at all.
The party fought the last UK General Election on a pledge to resist tuition fees, yet once in coalition with the Conservatives the party did a volte-face and came out in support of fees for students. Party leader Nick Clegg later issued an apology, which was widely ridiculed, and was forced to admit that the policy change had done great harm to his party’s credibility with the electorate.
Meanwhile a separate resolution in the Lib Dem’s conference in Glasgow calls for a successor to Trident to be built, despite overwhelming opposition to this in Scotland.
In March this year a poll for Scottish CND showed that a huge majority of Scots are opposed to replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. Amongst those planning to vote No in next year’s referendum on independence, opposition ran at 75%, a figure which increased to 87% amongst those planning to vote Yes.
The Lib Dem leadership also intends to show its support for the expansion of the UK’s nuclear energy programme, which is also opposed by a large majority in Scotland. A poll for YouGov published in March this year found that only 32% of Scots were in favour of nuclear energy generation.
The party, led by Tavish Scott, took a serious battering in the 2011 Holyrood election, losing 12 of their 17 seats and being reduced to a rump of 5. It led to Mr Scott being replaced by former MP Willie Rennie who has struggled to invigorate the party, hamstrung through its Westminster alliance with the Conservatives.
Once dominant throughout large parts of Scotland, the Lib Dems no longer have a single constituency seat on the Scottish mainland. The party gained just 7.9% of the consituency vote and 5.2% of the list vote, significantly down on the 16.2% and 11.3% respectively which they attained in the previous election in 2007.
Although 2011’s result was widely seen as a disaster for the party, since then the Lib Dem’s polling rating has continued to fall. The most recent poll, carried out for Panelbase for the Sunday Times / Real Radio Scotland in July, found that the Lib Dems currently attract the support of just 4% in the constituency vote, and 4% in the list vote.
Commenting, SNP MSP Clare Adamson who sits on the Education & Culture Committee said:
“The agenda that the LibDems have published for their coming UK conference in Glasgow speaks volumes about the state of the party – they could scarcely be more out of step with the priorities of people in Scotland if they tried.
“The LibDems are coming to Scotland – where there are no up-front or backdoor tuition fees thanks to the SNP – to tell voters that the sky-high tuition fees south of the border are ‘the best deal for students’ available.
“As if that weren’t enough they will also vote on backing a new nuclear weapons system that will see weapons of mass destruction remain on the Clyde, despite people in Scotland strongly and consistently voicing their opposition to this.
“It shows an extraordinary lack of understanding of Scotland to have selected these policies to vote on at a conference in Glasgow of all places.
“With priorities that are so out of sync with the views of people in Scotland, it is no wonder that the most recent opinion polling put LibDem support in Scotland on just 4%.
“Thanks to devolution we have been able to protect people in Scotland from some of the wrongheaded policies that the LibDems back, but it is only with a Yes vote for the powers of an independent Scotland that we will be able to ensure that decisions affecting Scotland always reflect the priorities of people in Scotland.”