Scotland politics

Scottish Lib Dem conference: Leader Rennie urges party to be confident

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Media captionWillie Rennie said there should be "no more whispering"

Liberal Democrat supporters who "fear" speaking up for the party need to have more confidence, Scottish leader Willie Rennie has said.

He insisted Lib Dems needed to speak up for their achievements, as the party sought to make up for electoral losses.

In his speech to the Scottish Lib Dem conference in Dundee, Mr Rennie also attacked the SNP's independence vision.

He said there were no "magical powers of independence" to solve all "known problems".

After entering into coalition government with the Conservatives at Westminster, the Lib Dems were reduced to five MSPs in the last Scottish Parliament election.

But Mr Rennie said evidence of the party's fightback included a second-place finish in a recent council by-election in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire.

He recalled being told by a voter that she backed the Lib Dems, but added "don't tell anyone".

Mr Rennie told the conference: "The lesson I learned that day is that we must instil confidence in those who support us, but fear speaking up for us.

"We need their voice to rebuild our case.

"That's why it's important to tell people about our work with conviction and belief."

He added: "No more whispering. Speak up for the Rutherglen lady. Speak up for what we have achieved."

Mr Rennie said Lib Dems in the UK government were working to get the economy back on track, including tax cuts for low and middle-income families, a green investment bank and an island fuel discount.

He added: "It's not the Conservatives that stand up for Scotland in the cabinet - it's the Liberal Democrats."

Turning to the SNP, Mr Rennie said the Scottish government's plan to win independence in the 2014 referendum had been dealt a blow following the leaking of a cabinet document which warned of cost pressures on public spending and volatility in oil revenue.

The political leader told the conference: "For years they have told us that, if only we had the magical powers of independence, we could solve all known problems.

"But we've had a sneak peak behind the veil."

'Yes to more powers'

He went on: "They fear volatile oil revenue. They fear cuts to pensions. They fear the loss of public service jobs.

"Well, I have a message to [finance secretary] John Swinney and [first minister] Alex Salmond - at this rate, there's no fear you're going to win."

Mr Rennie said he was hoping to reach agreement with Scotland's other pro-union parties - Labour and the Conservatives - on increased powers for Holyrood, in the event of a "no" vote in the referendum.

"It is possible to develop the consensus that 'no' in the referendum actually means 'yes' to more powers," he added.

Mr Rennie also urged the SNP to join the debate on a strengthened devolved settlement for the Scottish Parliament, rather than full independence.

The party leader was introduced to the conference platform by Mike Thornton, who held the Westminster seat of Eastleigh in the recent by-election.

It was sparked by the resignation of former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, who was jailed for eight months for perverting the course of justice.

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