Helen Liddell in the Press



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Labour lays into LibDem 'fantasy land'

by CATHERINE MacLEOD and MURRAY RITCHIE

HELEN Liddell yesterday widened the divorce proceedings between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, coalition partners in the Scottish Parliament, as she accused the LibDems of living in a "private fantasy land".

Making clear Labour's intention to chase every vote in the forthcoming general election, the Scottish secretary focused her political hostility mainly on the Tories but kept both the LibDems and the SNP in her sights.

Imploring the 3000 delegates at Labour's conference in Glasgow to rally against Tory attempts to generate apathy, she said: "The Tories have nothing constructive to offer. They can only be negative and are only happy when they can carp and criticise about Scotland.

"The Tories showed they could not care less for Scotland. Nothing has changed. The Liberal Democrats occupy some private fantasy land with little relevance to those of us who know that choices, not chances, build a strong society."

Mrs Liddell spelled out the price of apathy. "They know that if one in five Labour supporters fails to vote, then we lose 60 seats. Our majority will fall by 120. The Conservatives' back-door strategy is to sow cynicism, to make people think that no government can really change things.

"The way they hope to win seats they cannot win on their own merits is through apathy and cynicism. Our job is to banish that cynicism - to make sure that constituency by constituency, street by street, door by door, those Labour voters vote."

Mrs Liddell reminded delegates of the "unholy alliance" between unionist and separatist opponents of Labour, determined to frustrate the prospect of a Labour government.

"Now that we have that government, one that has delivered that Scottish Parliament, and at the same time strengthened the UK, they remain with a common goal - to talk Scotland down.

"The new Scotland is an anathema to the SNP and the Tories. Our every success is to be cynically mocked. Once before they set out to destroy a Labour government and together they ushered in 18 years of Tory rule - years when the Scottish economy was all but destroyed by the Tories, years when Scotland became the test tube for Tory policies like the poll tax."

She added: "How can we forget or forgive the slaughter of Scottish jobs the successive governments wrote off?

Jim Wallace, Scotland's deputy first minister, later dismissed the criticism, maintaining it was all pre-election hype.

Listing policies including student bursaries, free personal care for the elderly, and a more robust freedom of information regime, he said: "These are all things where we have had a significant Liberal Democrat input. That's not fantasy - that's reality."

Last night, Labour was pondering the implications of a poll suggesting two-thirds of Scots want full fiscal autonomy.

The SNP seized on the findings of the ICM poll for Scotland on Sunday which suggested 67% of those asked wanted the Scottish Executive to be responsible for setting taxes in Scotland - which means Scotland would first have to control its own revenues.

John Swinney, SNP leader, said: "This is an excellent poll for the SNP and for Scotland. It confirms that Scotland is in a process of independence."

He added: "Everyone from David Davis, the Tory chairman of the Westminster public accounts committee, to John McAllion (Labour MSP), agrees with the SNP about the need for fiscal freedom for Scotland.

"That way, the 7700m surplus that Scotland will send to the London Treasury over this year and next would be available for investment in the future of our nation."

He hailed the ICM finding that SNP support is up for both Westminster and Holyrood compared to the last elections.

The poll gave Labour 42% in Westminster voting to the SNP's 26% while in Holyrood first voting it gave Labour 39% to the SNP's 32%. In second voting it put the SNP five points clear of Labour with 35% and 30% respectively.

- Feb 19