Blunt talking at Lib Dem conference

Danny Alexander, Willie Rennie and Lord Ashdown Image copyright PA BBC and Getty
Image caption Danny Alexander, Willie Rennie and Lord Ashdown were all scathing towards their political opponents

It must be election time. The rhetoric has become somewhat blunt. Such is certainly the case here in Aberdeen at the Liberal Democrat conference.

Willie Rennie is scathing about the SNP. Danny Alexander excoriates his coalition colleagues, the Conservatives. And Lord Ashdown offers a somewhat brutal critique of his fellow author, Alex Salmond.

Paddy Ashdown was formerly described as the only trained killer in the House of Commons - Margaret Thatcher being but a gifted amateur. It would seem that his Lordship has lost little of his attack instinct.

Briefing the press here at the conference, he diverted for a moment from asserting that the Lib Dems would do well in May to provide an opinion on Alex Salmond's autobiography.

According to Lord Ashdown, it was somewhat self-congratulatory. Indeed, he said it was "the longest exercise in literary masturbation since politics began."

Economic plan

Moving on swiftly. To Lord Ashdown's political opinions. He is in charge of the party's election strategy - and his view, based upon private polling, is that the Lib Dems are leading or within reach of leading in each of the seats they are defending in Scotland. Including Gordon where the party is seeking to hold off a challenge from Salmond, A.

Paddy Ashdown insisted voters would ultimately recognise that the Lib Dems had contributed much in the UK government and that they offered a more credible economic plan than the Nationalists - which he derided as ludicrous and hazardous.

Naturally, this political perspective is not shared by the SNP who - without making forecasts - argue that the public are responding positively to their proposal for a limited, measured increase in public spending and are accepting the case that only the SNP can give Scotland a strong voice in the Commons.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Alex Salmond launched his book The Dream Shall Never Die on Thursday

In his speech, Danny Alexander was similarly blunt about the party's rivals. Giving the SNP a stake in UK power would be "like putting Jeremy Clarkson in charge of the Foreign Office or Nigel Farage in charge of the European Commission".

Labour, he said, were in denial about their role in the economic collapse. And the Tories? Herewith, on the face of it, a problem. Mr Alexander has sat in Cabinet with them for five years. He is part of the Quad, the four Ministers at the very apex of government.

So the argument is more nuanced. The good things, the socially just things that have emerged from that coalition, he attributes to the Lib Dems. He argues further that they have constrained the Tories on issues like Europe and welfare.

And for the future? He castigates Tory plans on welfare and spending, insisting that a majority Tory government would be catastrophic.

As for Willie Rennie, he argues in a webcast interview with me that it would be impossible to enter any form of Westminster pact with the SNP - because they do not accept Westminster governance. They could not be trusted.

More to come. Much more.

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