Nick Clegg rallies Scottish Lib Dems ahead of election

Nick Clegg: "We will see this through"

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has rallied the party ahead of May's Scottish elections, telling supporters - "you have my absolute support".

The deputy prime minister admitted it was not an easy time to be in government.

He told the Scottish Lib Dem conference in Perth decisions being taken were "difficult, but necessary".

The Scottish party faces pressure at the May poll in the wake of the coalition's tough spending cuts.

But Mr Clegg said the Westminster power-sharing deal with the Tories meant Liberal Democrat policies were being put into action.

He paid tribute to key Scottish Lib Dems in government, including Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

Doorstep campaign

"The work that they are doing, that the coalition government is doing, is difficult - but it is necessary and right," Mr Clegg said.

"And I know that you will be asked about it on the doorsteps during the election campaign."

Analysis

In just over a couple of months' time the Liberal Democrats are facing the Holyrood elections.

They've been looking at poll numbers which have placed them sometimes below 10% here in Scotland.

But also, of course, looking at that result from the Barnsley Central by-election where the party came sixth, and they are worried that the party in Scotland will be damaged as a result of the reputation which Nick Clegg and his colleagues have built up from being in the coalition across the UK.

So Nick Clegg came here really with a selling job to do. First of all to enthuse his delegates and his party members and secondly to convince the electorate, when they go to the polls, that actually, it's worthwhile having the Liberal Democrats in power.

As well as deficit-reducing spending cuts, the coalition has backed an increase in university tuition fees in England to £9,000, although Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott has pledged to keep Scottish higher education free.

Ahead of the coming election campaign, which is targeting key seats to boost Lib Dem MSP numbers beyond the current 16, Mr Clegg told delegates: "At every turn in all of these seats, you will have my absolute support."

Mr Clegg said the Lib Dems were right to take the opportunity to get into government, in the wake of last year's UK election.

"This isn't an easy time to be in government," said Mr Clegg, but added: "That makes our influence - our liberal influence - all the more important."

Attacking Labour, he went on: "On the economy, we have pulled Britain back from the brink. We are paying off crippling debt.

"And we are creating the conditions for sustainable growth, rebuilding and rebalancing Labour's lop-sided inheritance."

The deputy prime minister said his party was cutting corporation tax and making banks lend more cash, while giving tax relief to cash-strapped families and workers.

Turning specifically to Scotland, Mr Clegg said the country's one million pensioners would benefit from the state pension rising in line with earnings or inflation.

Start Quote

With every Liberal Democrat elected to the Scottish Parliament this May, our party will be stronger”

End Quote Nick Clegg Liberal Democrat leader

And he said the country would benefit from the soon-to-be-set-up Green Investment Bank, sparking a renewable energy revolution, funded by a £250m account taken from the fossil fuel levy, to which the Scottish government would have access.

'Fairer Scotland'

He said the previous Labour UK government had saddled the country with "the largest peacetime debt in our national history".

"When it comes to the problems facing our country, Labour has nothing to offer," said Mr Clegg.

Mr Clegg also urged supporters to campaign hard on the AV referendum on changing the way MPs are elected - controversially being held on the same day as the Holyrood election.

"We will have a referendum on 5 May, with the opportunity to finally ditch the corrupting, distorting and outdated first-past-the-post voting system," he said.

Turning to the Scottish elections, Mr Clegg told delegates: "With every Liberal Democrat elected to the Scottish Parliament this May, our party will be stronger.

"Our voice will be louder and our influence will be greater.

"We will build a fairer Scotland within a fairer United Kingdom.

"And we will provide solutions for Scotland."

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