Scotland politics

Scotland's political leaders issue New Year messages

Scotland's main political leaders have issued New Year messages.

Alex Salmond said his government's stance on tuition fees showed the kind of differences that could be made in an independent Scotland.

Labour's Johann Lamont said she wanted to see more focus on help for families struggling in tough economic times.

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said Scotland faced "three great evils", while Tory leader Ruth Davidson said the focus should be on the economy.


First Minister Alex Salmond said the independence referendum in 2014 would bring new opportunities for Scots to make their own choices.

He highlighted the SNP administration's 2007 decision to "restore Scotland's centuries-old tradition of free education" as he invited people to consider what differences could be made in other policy areas if there were a yes vote in the referendum.

Mr Salmond said: "This year, people accepted into Scottish universities have increased. And we've record numbers of Scottish, English and overseas students studying higher education at our Scottish colleges and universities.

"In contrast, the prospect of sky-high tuition fees in England has seen acceptances for universities there sinking like a stone.

"Now this contrast between what is happening here and what isn't happening there has only been made possible because it is the Scottish Parliament which runs Scottish education. But let's imagine what would happen if we didn't control education or if, as some people suggest, we imposed English-style tuition fees.

"Numbers at our universities would collapse. We would be mortgaging our own country's future."

Mr Salmond invited Scots to consider how they might vote if the referendum in 2014 was for an independent Scotland to give up its independence and hand over powers in areas like welfare or foreign affairs to London.

Those arguing for such a move would be pursuing "mission impossible" and would be "laughed at from Gretna Green to Dunnet Head", he said.

The first minister ended his message by saying the Scottish government has a "positive vision of the future".

He added: "We can build a new independent nation."


In her New Year message, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said her priority for 2013 would be "working towards a better Scotland".

She said: "Some would see this year as nothing more than a build up to something far more significant in 2014.

"I believe we cannot afford to do that. While politicians argue over the referendum, families all across Scotland are facing up to the harsh economic climate.

"Opportunities for our young people are threatened, care for our elderly and vulnerable is squeezed and families are having to deal with rising bills in a time of unemployment, underemployment and pay freezes."

Ms Lamont said these problems would not be solved by "re-configuring the constitution".

She added: "Although we face significant challenges as a country, we see people everyday working towards that better Scotland by helping others, whether it is carers supporting their loved ones, volunteers making a difference to the lives of others or those in our public services making us safer and more secure.

"I will not wait another year to play my part in working towards that better Scotland. I want to start from 1 January and every day after that."


Willie Rennie used his New Year message to highlight what he claimed were the "three great evils " that Scots face.

He said these were "a demographic time bomb, the advance of climate change and the stubborn pervasiveness of poverty".

The Lib Dem leader said New Year was a time to look forward and to set new goals and ambitions.

"A time to confront those things that we have put off in previous years.

"For most, this will mean eating less and exercising more but as a nation we are confronted with far greater challenges than losing a few pounds."

He added: "2012 has been a year when every issue, large or small, has been seen through the prism of the independence referendum. We can't afford to let this go on.

"The three evils facing us in the modern world must be confronted in their own right. The population is not going to get any younger, the ice stop melting or deprivation evaporate overnight, no matter what the result in 2014.

Mr Rennie went on: "It's time to get serious with these issues. I resolve to play my part. I hope you do to."


The independence debate will "overshadow" politics in the coming year, according to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

But in her New Year message, she stressed that political leaders should focus on immediate improvements to the economy.

She said: "Next year's referendum will continue to overshadow Scotland's political debate, but if ever there was a time for the devolved government of Scotland to work in partnership with Westminster, it is now.

"Our economic recovery remains fragile. Unemployment, although falling, continues to blight too many families and the road ahead remains difficult.

"It would be much better if the referendum was held sooner than autumn 2014 and we could get on with the business of recovery, but that is the SNP's choice."

Ms Davidson said the Scottish Parliament had responsibility for many of the things which mattered to people's daily lives.

"There is more to come, with an array of tax-raising powers due to arrive by 2016," she added.

"The devolution debate will not end there and Scottish Conservatives must have a strong voice."

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