Scottish Lib Dem conference: UK leader Clegg urges party to start winning

Nick Clegg: "There has always been a strong Scottish backbone to the Liberal Democrats"

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The Scottish Liberal Democrat conference has heard UK leader Nick Clegg urge his party to turn its attention to winning.

He told delegates they had remained "steady under fire".

But he said he now had a different message for them and that message was to "win".

Mr Clegg believed the Liberal Democrats had made a difference at Westminster and in Scotland, despite recent controversies.

The party has faced unease in the past few weeks. It has experienced tensions within the UK coalition and adverse publicity surrounding the jailing of former Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

"In essence, his message was - stop apologising and start winning. He urged them to lay much more stress on what he regards as significant achievements by Lib Dems within the UK coalition - rather than the fact of the coalition itself, given its other half.

Mr Clegg began by acknowledging the extent of the disquiet in Scotland - including within his own party - about a coalition which maintains the Conservatives in power.

He noted that the Tories had but one MP in Scotland - David Mundell, deputy to the Lib Dem Scottish Secretary.

In truth, it is probably difficult for Mr Clegg to appreciate the full extent of the discomfort felt by his Scottish party. Many of them were not just dismayed at the coalition choice. They were catatonic, laid low."

He received an eight-month sentence after admitting asking his then wife, Vicky Pryce, to take his speeding points to avoid losing his licence in 2003.

The spotlight has also been put on the party after the emergence of accusations of inappropriate behaviour made against former Lib Dem chief executive Lord Rennard. He strenuously denies the claims.

Mr Clegg stressed the party's achievements - such as taking low earners out of tax and developing the Green Investment Bank in Scotland.

He highlighted the Eastleigh by-election where UKIP, the Tories and Labour were all beaten off allowing the Lib Dems to retain the seat vacated by Mr Huhne.

Mr Clegg insisted that the party's contribution to the UK coalition remained valid.

He said: "Only the Liberal Democrats can deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

"That's why we believe Scotland and the United Kingdom are better together.

"Only a vibrant Scotland as part of a prosperous United Kingdom can bring the stronger economy Scotland needs."

He said he believed the people of the UK have a "rich shared heritage" and "shared values and experience".

Mr Clegg criticised his coalition partners, the Conservative Party.

Strong economy

He said: "People in Scotland know that the Conservatives cannot be trusted to deliver a fairer society. Not on their own anyway.

"With only one MP in Scotland, who honestly thinks that the Conservatives on their own will stand up for you?"

The leader then turned his attention to Labour.

He told delegates: "But people in Scotland also know Labour can't be trusted to build a strong economy.

"That you can't trust Labour with your money. That's why they have stagnated in Scotland.

"And we saw the evidence in Eastleigh too.

"Labour made no progress whatsoever. When the people of Eastleigh had the opportunity, they rejected them once again."

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