Tavish Scott launched the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto today with a pledge to use money generated by part-privatising Scottish Water to help create 100,000 new jobs.
Mr Scott, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, insisted he did not want to privatise Scottish Water. Instead, he wants to sell off the utility’s debt on the money markets.
This use of private investment in the publicly owned utility would, he said, free up £1.5 billion which the Scottish government has to provide to cover Scottish Water’s debts at the moment.
Mr Scott said this money could then be used to pump-prime the Scottish economy.
Growing the economy was at the heart of the Lib Dem plans. The party’s manifesto included commitments to:
* Create new Regional Development Banks to grow thousands of businesses through the lending and expertise.
* Launch a 20:20 initiative to get Scotland’s biggest companies to help young people into work.
* Cut business rates in new Scottish Enterprise Zones.
* Reform regulation and procurement.
* Introduce new initiatives on exports and better support for small businesses.
* On health, launch a new approach to target cancer.
* On housing, provide extra support for first-time buyers and new action to bring Scotland’s 70,000 empty homes back into use.
* Allocate £21 million from the UK budget consequentials this year to increase the amount of housing available to first time buyers under shared equity schemes.
* On council tax, abolish council tax completely for the least well-off pensioners.
* On education, provide more freedom for headteachers.
* Oppose single Scottish police and fire services.
* Allocate a further £21 million to support Scotland’s colleges, halting the redundancies at colleges.
* Use the proceeds of Scottish Water’s part-privatisation to support businesses, ensure super-fast broadband across the country, invest £250 million in Scotland’s universities, invest in energy saving initiatives to cut bills and establish an Early Intervention Revolution for schools.
“I met a family the other night,” said Mr Scott. “They take home £15,000. He and his wife are worried about rising prices in the shops, standards at their kids’ school and the future of his job and their income.
“They asked me the killer question – what are you going to do for us? That is the question – from so many people – that has guided this manifesto.
“I am ambitious for my country. I want Scotland to move up and move forward. I want solutions that work from now, on, jobs, education and local services.”
And he added: “I want Scotland to be the most innovative and creative economy in the world, for our education system to be among the very best performing in the world, and for our country to be the most digitally connected in Europe.
“To drive our plans on jobs we set out today a 30-day action plan on jobs and growth; every minister expected to have started action in 30-days.”
Responding to the manifesto, Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, pointed out the huge interest in the Green offer of membership to disillusioned Lib Dems.
The Greens offered free membership to any Lib Dems who wanted to leave their own party because of the compromises being made at Westminster.
Mr Harvie said the offer had been downloaded 800 times. “Everyone in Scotland knows what Lib Dem manifestos mean,” he said. “Absolutely nothing. They make empty promises on the environment, and then back deepwater oil drilling, unsustainable new motorways and bungs to the aviation industry. This is a manifesto that would literally hand over the scrutiny of business over to business itself, while privatising and cutting public services, the very same model which led to the collapse of the banks.
“Tavish Scott’s campaign has been a catalogue of defections, resignations, confusion and chaos. The Lib Dems must be desperate now just to get it over with so the Scottish people can put them out of their misery.”
And Derek Brownlee, for the Conservatives, 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?”
And Mr Brownlee added: “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.”