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Members of the Scottish Parliament 2007–2011

Westminster: missing the point

Westminster: missing the point

Like a rather sluggish giant, England has just woken up to the prospect of Scottish independence. London’s media and political establishment has roared and hit out at Scottish independence, warning of the destruction of the United Kingdom, Great Britain and everything related to these concepts.

Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the commentators and the politicians at Westminster are some way behind the curve on this issue.

They are debating, fighting and challenging constitutional arguments that were current a decade ago but which are not topical today.

To be fair, they are not the only ones. There are Scottish nationalists too who perhaps do not realise that Alex Salmond has nipped out during the night and shifted the goalposts. The First Minister’s view of Scottish independence is, now, radically different to the one the SNP espoused in the early 1990s and some way from that being punted by the SNP even a few years ago.

The first to highlight this was SNP policy adviser Stephen Noon. If anyone in the nationalist movement doesn’t know who Mr Noon is, they should do: he is the brains at the heart of the SNP in government and if he suggests, as he does, that the SNP is pursuing a different, softer approach to independence then that is indeed what is happening.

Mr Noon wrote a blog on Tuesday, Stronger Together as Equals, making it clear that “separatism” is not on the SNP’s agenda and that everything was about “partnership” with England.

Angus MacLeod then delved a little deeper in the Times yesterday, using an analysis column to explain what senior SNP sources had told him: that Scottish independence was entirely compatible with some form of set payment from the Scottish to the English Government, covering such items as defence and the diplomatic service, which would be retained for the UK and run by London, as they are now.

The Professor James Mitchell of Strathclyde University put even more meat on the bones of this new, less aggressive form of independence. He interviewed 80 senior nationalist politicians, at length, to discover what they meant by independence.

Quoted in the Times today, Prof Mitchell said: “I was surprised by just how pragmatic the senior members were in terms of what they understood independence to mean. I would describe what they are thinking about as being much more of a confederate arrangement within these islands than the traditional concept of independence.”

It is this quasi-federal nature of the relationship between Scotland and England which seems to have become the focus of the SNP’s new approach.

At its heart, this new approach would involve the handing upwards of certain powers, over defence, macro-economic management and foreign affairs to run on behalf of both countries, as is done now.

The major difference is that this would be at the discretion of the smaller country which would hand over money to pay for them, not have that money held back – as is the case at the moment.

“One senior figure said to me that provided Scotland had the right to pull out of any sharing arrangement at any time, he would be quite happy to share a whole range of services,” Prof Mitchell told the Times.

This does tend to reinforce the view that independence and unionism are not poles apart and separated by an ideological divide. Rather that extreme unionism and extreme nationalism are at opposite ends of a spectrum with many different (and subtly nuanced) variations dotted out between them, ranging from the current devolution settlement, through fiscal accountability, fiscal autonomy, federalism, independence-lite to old-fashioned, complete separatism.

The key message from Mr Noon and highlighted with academic rigour by Prof Mitchell suggests that Alex Salmond’s version of independence has shifted along this spectrum for both practical and electoral reasons.

He knows that when the Scottish people come to have their say on the issue of independence, they are much more likely to vote for something that retains some kind of link (however tenuous) to the old United Kingdom than complete separation.

It is also now clear that many of the unionist commentators and politicians in London have yet to catch up with the new arguments and, unless they do, they will be left behind and stand little chance of winning the real battle when it is launched in earnest by the referendum bill.

SNP MSPs en masse, 7 May 2011

SNP MSPs en masse, 7 May 2011

By James Browne

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond met his new parliamentary colleagues today – some of them for the first time.

“I’d like to say I knew everybody in the new group,” Mr Salmond said, “but I signed an autograph for one a moment ago and I thought they were a member of the public.”

Mr Salmond held a photocall with all the other 68 SNP MSPs on the grass ouside the Holyrood parliament, before the first parliamentary group meeting which was designed to set out the priorities for the SNP in government.

Mr Salmond talked through various issues with the prime minister, David Cameron, on the telephone and hopes to secure coalition backing for an extension to the powers of the Scottish parliament through the Scotland Bill as his first and most immediate priority.


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Jobs dominated the political communications yesterday, as first minister Alex Salmond outlined the SNP’s vision for reindustrialising Scotland by meeting the party’s target of 130,000 jobs in the low-carbon sector by 2020.

A word cloud showing the most common words across all of yesterday's press releases. The larger the word, the more it was used.

A word cloud showing the most common words across all of yesterday's press releases. The larger the word, the more it was used.

Speaking on a campaign visit to Steel Engineering Ltd in Renfrew, Mr Salmond said:

“By 2020, our target is to have 130,000 jobs in the low carbon sector. That is a goal which will see the reindustrialisation of Scotland on a huge scale – and just as our shipyards were the workshop of the world in the 19th century, the green energy revolution gives us the chance to become the hi-tech workshop of the world in the 21st century.

Also raising jobs profile, SNP candidate for Aberdeen Central, Kevin Stewart, said Ed Balls had blundered by exposing Labour dishonesty on the issue of changes to offshore oil taxation.

Mr Balls is quoted in the Press & Journal saying the oil tax changes were a mistake but when a vote to oppose those tax changes was held in the UK parliament on 29 March 2011 he failed to vote against them despite voting in two other divisions.

Commenting Mr Stewart said:

“Ed Balls came north to lecture Scots about their country but has now been caught out being dishonest about Labour’s position on oil tax. It is hypocrisy for him to say he now opposes a tax on oil jobs when he failed to try and stop it in a key vote.

“It yet again shows why no-one can trust a word Labour says – that the rhetoric doesn’t meet the reality.”

Labour accused the SNP of the same, however, as it emerged that a flagship SNP council has been forced to admit that compulsory redundancies have not only been made in the last year, but the option cannot be entirely ruled out.

The SNP manifesto states that the party is “committed to a policy of no compulsory redundancies”.

However, documents released by Fife council reveal that the SNP-led administration in Fife made 191 compulsory redundancies last year alone.

As part of plans to axe around 500 staff in a bid to save £16 million over the next year, SNP council leader Peter Grant has admitted that “there will be occasions when compulsory redundancies can’t be avoided” and Sharon McKenzie, Fife council’s human resources manager, has said that “redundancies can’t always be confined to the volunteer pool.”

Scottish Labour’s candidate in Mid Fife and Glenrothes, Claire Baker, said:

“This latest revelation comes as a humiliating blow to one of the SNP’s key election pledges. It speaks volumes that one of the SNP’s flagship councils has already made almost 200 compulsory redundancies and is now admitting that more are on the table.”

Next on the word cloud are the two largest parties’ leaders with Alex, Salmond, Iain and Gray placing unusually highly. The appearance of both leaders’ names is linked to the rather odd appearance of asda, and supermarket – both of which appear on the right of our cloud – as the supermarket’s Ardrossan branch was the site of a clash between the two parties.

Both men were campaigning in Ardrossan last night, when Iain Gray and his campaign team stopped at an Asda supermarket to pick up some provisions on the way to a public meeting in Ardrossan Civic Centre.

Unbeknown to them, Alex Salmond was campaigning in the same supermarket – but Labour claim that he was ushered up the aisles and kept shielded from Mr Gray.

Scottish Labour Leader Iain Gray said:

“If I’d have known Alex Salmond was there, I’d have gone up and asked him why he is hiding his date for an independence referendum. Sadly he was kept well hidden until I’d left.”

The SNP tell it differently, claiming that it was Iain Gray, not Mr Salmond who fled the store after being approached by the local newspaper.

SNP campaign manager Angus Robertson commented on footage taken by Kevin Paterson, reporting for the Ardrossan Herald, which shows Iain Gray leaving the store, turning to avoid an SNP activist and ignoring a question from someone in the shop asking “are you not hanging about?”

Mr Roberston said:

“This footage makes an absolute mockery of the claims in a Labour press release issued this morning and raises serious questions about the negativity, dirty tricks and misinformation at the heart of Labour’s “re-launched” campaign.”

Mr Gray’s comment referred to Labour’s call for the SNP to name the date of their proposed referendum on independence. The Scottish Labour leader called for the SNP to reveal their date saying:

“Don’t hide your plan for independence. Tell Scotland the date you want to hold the referendum and tell us today.

“Don’t hide behind the pathetic excuse that it would be a ‘mistake’ to reveal the date you already know. If Labour forms the next government, we will not be distracted by a constant campaign to break up the UK. It will be jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs again.”

Services, local and communities appear as Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott joined Alison Hay, Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute and Alan Reid, Liberal Democrat MP for Argyll and Bute at Connel post office in Oban to campaign on the party’s plan to continue the Post Office Diversification Fund.

Commenting, Tavish Scott said:

“The Connel post office is a local store, cafe, paper shop and a post office. We want to see more post offices growing their businesses and cementing their place at their heart of their local community.

“They are a genuine lifeline for many vulnerable and older people in particular. We need to protect these services.”

Scottish Greens dismissed this claim, however, pointing to the privatisation of Royal Mail being championed by Vince Cable.

Legislation to enable Royal Mail to be privatised is just weeks away from completing its passage through Westminster. Greens argue that the Royal Mail is a vital public service that should stay in public hands.

Patrick Harvie, the Greens’ top candidate in Glasgow, said:

“It’s bare-faced cheek for Liberal Democrats to be posing outside post offices pretending to care about them while Uncle Vince in Westminster is getting ready to sell off the Royal Mail for a short-term profit. It’s time for the Lib Dems to understand that we are talking about a genuine public service, not just some indistinguishable commercial operation, and that if they had any principles whatsoever they’d be opposing these daft plans.”

Also campaigning for better local services, Scottish Conservatives unveiled plans for another round of town centre regeneration funding, totalling £140m over the course of the next Scottish parliament.

In the last parliament, Scottish Conservatives delivered a £60m Town Centre Regeneration Fund, which benefited communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

Speaking from Peterhead Harbour in Banffshire & Buchan Coast, where she was joined by local candidate Michael Watt, Annabel Goldie, Scottish Conservative leader, said:

“Scottish Conservatives pledged a Town Centre Regeneration Fund in our last manifesto and we delivered. We delivered £60m of help to town centres and high streets across Scotland, despite Labour and the Lib Dems trying to vote it down.

“That is real help in these tough times and, because we have taken difficult decisions, we can do more to boost local economies and give people more pride in their community.”

We’ve analysed all of yesterday’s press communications, from each of the five parties, to pick out the main topics of discussion and generate today’s CalMerc Cloud. The larger the word, the more often it was used across all of the press releases. The topic of the day was renewable energy targets and policies, with renewable, energy, electricity, power and renewables all dominating our cloud and appearing in releases from every main party with the exception of the Scottish Conservatives.

Today's cloud, with Scottish, Scotland, Scotland's, Support and the five party names removed

Today's cloud, with Scottish, Scotland, Scotland's, Support and the five party names removed, as these all appear numerous times in almost every press release.

First minister Alex Salmond welcomed support for the party’s green energy targets from leading industry figures, and said that the goal of generating the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s own electricity needs from renewable sources by 2020 would give confidence to companies ensuring further investment and jobs in the sector, which in turn will power the re-industrialisation of Scotland.

Seven of the green energy sector’s most influential leaders have backed the SNP’s manifesto pledge in an open letter, in which they say it is a “vital step” in the creation of a sustainable low-carbon economy. The endorsement comes as the SNP publishes a paper giving a detailed breakdown of how the 100 per cent renewables target can be achieved.

Welcoming the industry backing for the policy, Mr Salmond said:

“This is very welcome backing for the SNP’s renewable energy target from some of the leading figures in the industry.

“Our goal of generating 100 per cent of Scotland’s own electricity demand from renewable sources by 2020 is ambitious but achievable. It will mean that by that date Scotland will be producing around double the electricity we need, with just over half of that coming from renewable power and the rest from other sources.”

Contradicting the SNP, Scottish Labour challenged them to answer 20 questions on how they plan to produce 100 per cent of the electricity from renewables by 2020, citing other industry figures who derided SNP claims as “unrealistic”, “undesirable”, “utter nonsense” and “cloud cuckoo land”.

Scottish Labour’s energy spokesperson and candidate for Aberdeen Central, Lewis Macdonald, said:

“We must set ambitious renewable energy targets, but Alex Salmond’s pledge has been debunked by industry leaders as a lot of hot air and comes from a party that failed in government to process many applications for new wind and hydro power projects.”

The Liberal Democrats also had the environment at the forefront of their campaign yesterday. Commenting on Environment LINK’s calls for prospective MSPs to declare their commitment to helping reverse the declining health and biological diversity of our seas, Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Liam McArthur said:

“The Marine (Scotland) Act provides a framework which will help balance competing demands on Scotland’s seas. It introduces a duty to protect and where appropriate enhance the marine environment and includes measures to help boost investment and growth in areas such as marine renewables.

“We are committed to ensuring that the Act fulfils its promise.”

And the Scottish Greens launched a mini-manifesto for the rural economy yesterday with a visit by the party’s co-convenors Eleanor Scott and Patrick Harvie to Macleod Organics in Ardersier.

Included in the mini-manifesto is the Greens’ plan to support Scotland’s rural economy by establishing a new £80 million a year fund to support small farmers, crofters and new entrants.

Patrick Harvie said:

“Hundreds of millions of pounds is handed out to Scotland’s big landowners and industrial agribusiness each year, yet organic and sustainable food production for strong local food networks remains the best future for this country’s agricultural sector. That’s why we want to work with the NFUS and others to agree the best way to support small farmers, crofters and new entrants through a new fund worth £80 million for each year of the next session of the Scottish parliament.”

Council tax was the other hot topic of the day, with the SNP, Labour and Conservatives contributing local, freeze, council and tax to the word cloud in response to a poll in yesterday’s Scotsman.

The Scottish National Party welcomed the results of the YouGov poll which finds that 75 per cent of people support “the continuation of the council tax freeze”, with only 19 per cent opposed.

Finance secretary and SNP candidate for Perthshire North, John Swinney, said:

“This is an excellent poll, showing that re-electing the SNP government reflects the priorities of the people of Scotland.”

Labour, however, hailed the poll as proof that the SNP’s policy of creating a local income tax to replace council tax is ill-fated and should be scrapped.

Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, said:

“This is a damning indictment of the SNP’s plans to make Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK. Almost 90 per cent oppose the level at which local income tax would have to be set, so it is no wonder the SNP resorted to the courts in a desperate bit to hide the true cost of their tax.”

Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman, Andy Kerr, said:

“Labour understands that times are tough, bills are rising and families are feeling the squeeze, that’s why Labour has pledged to freeze the council tax. But unlike the Nationalists, Labour will fund the council tax freeze properly so we don’t see council’s cutting services, higher charges for services people depend on, public sector workers losing their jobs and a five year pay freeze for the public sector.”

Derek Brownlee, Scottish Conservative finance spokesperson, said only the Scottish Conservatives had a fully costed plan for a further freeze :

“This poll confirms what we already know – a council tax freeze is hugely popular. That is why Labour, despite having voted against the freeze in the last parliament, panicked a few weeks ago and cobbled together a new council tax policy – one that had been written on the back of an envelope and just hadn’t been costed.”

“Likewise, the SNP has promised a five-year council tax freeze without demonstrating how they would pay for it. Both parties are indulging in fantasy economics.

“By contrast, all Scottish Conservative proposals – including a council tax freeze until at least 2013 and an annual £200 council tax discount for all pensioner households – are fully costed as part of our comprehensive spending plans for the next four years.”

Finally, the last of the largest words come from clashes over knife-crime policy between SNP and Labour. Knife and crime appear as Iain Gray highlighted his pledge to take tough action on knife crime as Labour unveiled a new a new poster promoting Labour’s “Carry A Knife – Go To Jail” – knife-crime pledge.

Mr Gray joined knife crime campaigner John Muir and South of Scotland Labour candidate Graeme Pearson to unveil a campaign poster in Greenock.

Mr Gray said:

“Over 30,000 Scots have signed our anti-knife crime petition and many, many more have signed petitions by campaigners like John Muir. Knife murders increased by 56 per cent in Strathclyde in the last year and knives remain the most common cause of homicide across Scotland.

“Alex Salmond’s attitude to knife crime has been complacent, the Tories have flip-flopped and only Labour will take the tough action necessary to get knives off our streets.”

In response, Kenny MacAskill, Justice Secretary and SNP candidate for Edinburgh Eastern, said Labour’s proposals had collapsed as soon as they had been subjected to any detailed scrutiny or expert analysis.

Mr MacAskill said:

“Labour’s flagship policy on knife crime has collapsed as soon as it has been exposed to any scrutiny – it is unworkable, uncosted and contradictory, and has been left totally discredited by the experts. The police say it won’t work, the prison officers say it is not credible and dangerous – and even Labour themselves have been forced to admit it wouldn’t actually involve mandatory jail terms.”

greens2Yesterday’s announcement that the SNP have signed a contract for the additional Forth Road Bridge with FCBC was denounced as an election gimmick by the Scottish Greens, and the party pledged to put cancellation of the contract on the table for any post-election talks.

The results of the dehumidification work on the existing bridge will be available later this year, and if that work is unsuccessful the party would support the recabling of the existing bridge at an estimated cost of £122m. According to a letter dated 18 March 2011 from John Swinney to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, there would be no penalty charge for this, merely payment for work done and costs.

The Greens also pointed to concerns about the viability of the winning bid, as raised in New Civil Engineer magazine earlier this month, where sources close to rival consortium were quoted to the effect that FCBC “must have missed something” to bring costs down by £260m, approximately the figure which the SNP propose to use for a series of spending commitments.

Patrick Harvie said:

“This is not a done deal, whatever the SNP may want people to believe. We know the costs for cancellation of this contract after the election would be minimal, while the costs of going ahead with construction of an additional bridge would be enormous.

“The Scottish public would pay directly if they get their way, through worsening congestion and years of disruption, and through a painful squeeze on capital funds available for housing and education. This absurd plan would pour hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds away unnecessarily just as the Scottish budget comes under greater pressure than ever before.

“This is a scandalous stunt for the SNP to pull two weeks before polling day, although Ministers and civil servants alike had threatened to ignore “purdah” rules on announcing controversial decisions during an election. Anyone with any understanding of recent Scottish history will know that the costs of this bridge would spiral out of control the moment work begins. This contract is a misconceived attempt at an election giveaway, and it would be unpardonable folly to proceed with it.”

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The Scottish Greens also launched a commitment to designate Scottish waters as a whale and dolphin sanctuary, to boost eco-tourism and help support Scottish coastal communities. The commitment comes on the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Greens are the only party in Holyrood to have supported a moratorium on deepwater drilling in Scottish waters.

The Greens’ proposed cetacean sanctuary would cover all of Scotland’s inshore and offshore waters out to the 200-mile territorial limit, and would introduce a presumption of protection for whales and dolphins while in those waters.

A Scottish cetacean sanctuary has been a long-term commitment from the Greens, who introduced an amendment in this area to last year’s Scottish Marine Bill which was voted down by the other Holyrood parties.

Eleanor Scott, the Scottish Green Party’s Co-convenor and top candidate in the Highlands and Islands region, said:

“Scottish waters provide one of the best whale-watching opportunities in Europe. The designation of the whole of Scotland’s seas as a cetacean sanctuary would assist Scotland’s growing whale and dolphin-watching businesses, and would provide much needed support for remote and coastal communities that rely on eco-tourism for much of their income and employment.

“The move would also send a strong message to the world’s few remaining whaling nations that Scotland values and wants to protect the whales and dolphins that live in and migrate through its waters.”

snp1In a major new campaign initiative, First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday launched the Scottish Futures Fund – a £250 million fund, paid for by savings secured by the SNP Government from the Forth Replacement Crossing project.

The Scottish Government had included in its budget planning £1.87 billion of spending on the Forth Replacement Crossing between now and 2016, but thanks to negotiation and procurement, and the work of the Scottish Futures Trust, the cost of the bridge has been reduced to £1.54 billion.

If re-elected, an SNP Government intends to invest savings from the Forth Replacement in a £250 million Scottish Futures Fund initiative. The Futures Fund will support five key projects of £50 million each in order to strengthen Scotland’s society and economy and prepare the nation for the challenges of the future. The five futures projects will be:

• Young Scots Fund
• Next Generation Digital Fund
• Sure Start Fund
• Warm Homes Fund
• Future Transport Fund

Publishing the Scottish Futures Fund initiative – and setting out the Sure Start Fund – Mr Salmond said:

“The new Forth Crossing is our bridge to better times. The largest construction project in Scotland’s history, it will support 3,000 jobs and ensure connectivity between north and south.

“The bridge will also help deliver a Scotland that is fairer, stronger and greener. Thanks to skillful negotiation and procurement, and the work of the Scottish Futures Trust, the SNP government has achieved substantial savings on the cost of the crossing. We intend to invest these savings in a £250 million Scottish Futures Fund.”

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Mr Salmond also welcomed news that Alexander Dennis Limited – the Falkirk-based bus manufacturer – is to build over 160 vehicles for FirstGroup which means that in recent weeks the company has secured orders for over 500 buses, worth in the region of £100 million.

Visiting the company yesterday, the First Minister said:

“This is great news for Falkirk and Scotland. The success of Alexander Dennis shows what can be achieved with a positive and confident attitude about the future.

“The jobs they have secured show that will mean increased investment which can mean the strengthening of Falkirk’s and Scotland’s economic position. It is companies like Alexander Dennis which can help Scotland’s economic recovery. Protecting and delivering jobs as the Scottish economy recovered is a key part of the SNP’s economic strategy and this contract does just that.

“The work force at Alexander Dennis are very dedicated and I have no doubt they will be delighted at this announcement.”

The SNP has also yesterday signed up to NUS Scotland’s Reclaim Your Voice campaign, committing to:

1. Improve student support
2. Protect graduate numbers and college places
3. Rule out tuition fees.

The campaign is calling on every candidate standing for election to go beyond election promises to make cast-iron commitments to students.

Commenting after he signed up to the commitments Education Secretary and SNP Candidate for Argyll & Bute, Michael Russell, said:

“At this election, I am proud to stand on the SNP’s record of restoring free education in Scotland and proud to sign the NUS pledge to keep it that way.”

snp1Commenting on the launch of the Lib Dems’ manifesto, Finance Secretary John Swinney said that the Treasury’s Statement of Funding Policy for the devolved administrations meant that any such proceeds could be clawed back by the Treasury.

In relation to capital receipts, the Treasury document says: “In such circumstances Treasury Ministers reserve the right to reduce the grant to the devolved administration to reflect receipts.”

In relation to Scottish Water the whole value of such potential receipts is, according SNP estimates, £2.75bn (£1.2bn raised post-devolution and £1.5bn pre-devolution). The post-devolution figure is £1.2bn – not the Lib Dems’ £1.5bn – and there is every likelihood that even this smaller sum would be clawed back by the Treasury in reduced grant.

Mr Swinney said:

“The Lib Dem campaign was already in disarray, and now their manifesto has sunk on the day of its launch, because they are in absolutely no position to assume that any such receipts – which would also involve transferring Scottish Water to the private sector – would not simply be clawed back by the Tory Treasury.

“As the UK Government spell out, in such circumstances Treasury Ministers reserve the right to reduce the grant to the devolved administration to reflect receipts – leaving Scotland no better off, in return for going down the road of privatizing Scottish Water.”

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, SNP Depute Leader Nicola Sturgeon welcomed Lothian and Borders Chief Constable David Strang’s support for minimum pricing of alcohol in the Times newspaper, and reaffirmed that the SNP will bring forward minimum pricing proposals if re-elected to Government.

Ms Sturgeon said:

“I’m delighted that Chief Constable David Strang backs minimum pricing. His officers, and police officers across Scotland, know only too well the havoc and violence that alcohol abuse causes our society.

“The SNP Government’s efforts to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol as part of a wider range of measures in the Alcohol Bill were voted down by the unholy alliance of Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems, and if re-elected the SNP will reintroduce it and campaign vigorously to persuade the chamber that it is high time we implemented minimum pricing to help tackle alcohol misuse in Scotland.”

Ms Sturgeon visited The Princess Royal Trust for Carers’ Glasgow South East Carers Centre, where she will meet carers of all ages including some of Scotland’s young carers, Ms Sturgeon will set out the SNP’s vision for Scotland’s carers.

“Over the next five years we will work to ensure carers are treated properly as partners in our health and social care systems. The views and voices of Scotland’s carers must be properly heard and their needs properly supported.” Ms Sturgeon said.

“A re-elected SNP Government will ensure our education system supports young carers and that those on Education Maintenance Allowances do not find themselves penalised for fulfilling their caring responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond published a new leaflet calling on the UK Government to “rethink” the threat to offshore jobs and investment posed by the Chancellor’s Budget tax hike.

One hundred thousand copies of the new leaflet will be distributed in Aberdeen and across the North East of Scotland.

The SNP leader said that an SNP victory in the Scottish Parliament election will force the Tory/Lib Dem coalition to reconsider their damaging proposals.

Mr Salmond said:

“The UK Government’s disgraceful and unthinking treatment of one of Scotland’s great industries has emerged as a vital issue – and an SNP election victory on 5 May will force the Tory/Lib Dem UK coalition to reconsider their damaging proposals, which threaten offshore jobs and investment.

“The tax changes dreamed up by the Lib Dems’ Danny Alexander are totally ill-thought through and run the clear risk of diverting investment away from the North Sea. There is nothing wrong with making taxation responsive to profitability and high oil prices, however it has to be done in a planned fashion with appropriate incentives for marginal fields and infrastructure development.

“This entire episode underlines the need for the Scottish Parliament to gain responsibility for North Sea revenues, for the long-term benefit of the Scottish economy, our public services and society.”

With yesterday’s big news from the Scottish Liberal Democrat camp being the launch of their 2011 manifesto, other news from the Lib Dem camp took on a distinctly aquatic theme.

Commenting on the launch of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s (SFF) manifesto which has called for the phasing out of fish discards and a better representation of the industry, Liberal Democrat Fisheries spokesperson Liam McArthur said:

“In these challenging times for the industry, the manifesto put forward by the SFF is pragmatic and achievable. A Liberal Democrat Scottish Government would look to work closely and constructively with the industry to deliver the objectives set out in the SFF’s manifesto.”

Meanwhile, in response to SNP claims that the Liberal Democrats are seeking to privatise Scottish Water, the Liberal Democrat manifesto author Jeremy Purvis said that the Nats’ claims don’t hold water.

“Section 8.4 of the Treasury rule is quite clear that the Treasury has an interest in the transfer of assets that they originally paid for.” Mr Purvis said.

“That is exactly why, under our plan, the money lent to Scottish Water by the Treasury is repaid to them and the money lent to Scottish Water by the Scottish Government is repaid to them.

“Rule 8.4 is there to stop the Government privatising something and then trying to keep all of the money. We are not proposing either of those things.

“Instead of a drip, drip, drip attack on our ideas for future investment in Scotland, the SNP also needs to explain why it is throwing the advice of its two biggest budget advisers down the drain. The Scottish Futures Trust and the Independent Budget Review have both published reports recommending our sensible plan.”

scotcon2The Scottish Conservatives yesterday promised to introduce locally elected police Commissioners. Speaking outside Selkirk police station, John Lamont, Scottish Conservative Justice Spokesperson and candidate for Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire, said:

“Scottish Conservatives forced the SNP Government to put 1,000 extra police on our street. The SNP had tried to deliver a mere 500 and Labour promised none whatsoever. We delivered those 1,000 extra police and we are committed to retaining those extra officers in the next parliament.

“But we can do more. The public want to feel a real connection with their police. We need local accountability for local people. Because we are committed to local policing and local accountability, we will replace Police Boards with elected local Police Commissioners, each covering a local area.

“Giving people democratic control of the police is a huge step forward, but it is not enough. We need to give local people the information and direct powers they need to challenge their neighbourhood police teams to cut crime.”

And, on the day the Scottish Liberal Democrats launched their manifesto, Derek Brownlee, Scottish Conservative Finance Spokesperson, challenged them to publish their spending plans before anyone would believe anything they say.

Mr Brownlee, Scottish Conservative said:

“At our manifesto launch we produced a comprehensive 50 page document costing all our plans over the next four years. The word ‘costing’ only appears in the Lib Dem manifesto once.

“The Lib Dems may be in partnership with the Conservatives in the UK Government but this is just not a credible manifesto for Holyrood. Even on issues where the Lib Dems apparently agree with us – such as ending automatic early release from jails – we must ask them why they voted against our efforts to stop this in the past?

“In these tough economic times, people want political parties to show them the money. We did it in our manifesto but there is just no evidence of that today from the Scottish Lib Dems. They must publish the details of their spending plans, or no one will believe anything they say.”

Finally, Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative Health Spokesperson, yesterday criticised SNP plans to push on with minimum alcohol pricing despite their defeat in the previous parliamentary session.

“The SNP are not living in the real world,” Mr Fraser said, “Everyone knows Scotland has a drink problem and we urgently need to tackle it. But the SNP’s indiscriminate blanket minimum pricing, which had no evidence base, would have penalised responsible drinkers, harmed the Scotch whisky industry, cost jobs and was probably illegal. It was never the answer and that is why the other main parties at Holyrood did not support it.

“We believe that the tax and duty system has a major part to play in increasing the price of problem drinks, and will continue to work in the next parliament to achieve this. Rather than posturing, the SNP should work with the other parties to find real and practical solutions that will make a difference.”