Scotland politics

Scottish Labour conference: Tories and SNP mean race to bottom, says Miliband

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Media captionLabour party leader Ed Miliband outlines more powers for Scotland should the UK remain together following the independence referendum

Scottish independence and a Tory win at the next UK election would force the country into a "race to the bottom", Labour leader Ed Miliband has said.

He told his party's Scottish conference the scenario would leave Scotland and the rest of the UK having to compete on cutting taxes and wages.

Mr Miliband said only Labour governments at Holyrood and Westminster could deliver for people in the UK.

His speech came ahead of September's Scottish independence referendum.

Pro-independence campaign Yes Scotland said Labour could not deliver "powers that people want and Scotland needs".

Addressing delegates in Perth, Mr Miliband attacked the Scottish government for wanting to cut business tax, while refusing to match Labour's commitment to freeze energy prices and restoring the 50p tax rate on income above £150,000.

At the same time, the Labour leader said the UK government budget had failed to help young people, tackle the cost of living "crisis" and help hard-pressed families.

In contrast, Mr Miliband said Scottish Labour had put forward plans to expand the Scottish Parliament's financial powers, which would work hand-in-hand with a Labour Westminster government boosting social justice across the UK.

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Image caption Ed Miliband delivers his speech to the Scottish Labour conference in Perth

Labour members gathered together ahead of the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September when voters will be asked the Yes/No question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

Mr Miliband said of the Scottish first minister: "Alex Salmond used to claim he was a great social democrat. He can't anymore.

"When he is advocating the race to the bottom that he used to condemn when it came from a Tory government.

"He has been exposed in this referendum argument."

'Don't believe it'

The Labour leader continued: "This is the SNP vision of an independent Scotland - two lanes in the race to the bottom. David Cameron and Alex Salmond in the starting blocks.

"You can't build social justice if that is your approach."

Mr Miliband also said he understood the "deep anger anger and frustration" with the current Tory-led UK government.

But he said that was a feeling expressed across the UK, adding: "People should not believe the SNP argument that there is a Tory England and a progressive Scotland."

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Image caption Ed Miliband: "In 180 days, Scotland will vote to determine its future."
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Image caption Ed Miliband was greeted on stage by Scottish labour leader Johann Lamont

Mr Miliband's speech came as the conference endorsed the proposals put forward by Scottish Labour's devolution commission, which proposed the Scottish Parliament takes responsibility for raising about 40% of the money it spends.

They would also see the devolution of housing benefit to abolish the under-occupancy penalty, which opponents have dubbed the "bedroom tax".

Currency plan

The Labour leader said of the plans: "This is what we're putting forward - devolving more power over social security, but still sharing risks.

"More flexibility over income tax rates, but no race to the bottom when it comes to income tax.

"Sharing resources, fighting for social justice, bringing power closer to people - a Labour government in Westminster and a Labour government in Holyrood.

"Not wrestling for power against each other, but never resting until we have built equality and social justice right across the United Kingdom."

Ahead of the referendum, Mr Miliband said the Scottish government had no answers on concerns over how a pound-sharing currency union between an independent Scotland than the rest of the UK would work.

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Image caption Mr Miliband paid tribute to the legacy of former Labour leader John Smith

He told the conference: "In 180 days, Scotland will vote to determine its future.

"And I want to be very clear with you - this is Scotland's decision and Scotland's decision alone

"But what all of us in this room know, what all of us in the Labour party know is that we are better together."

Mr Miliband also paid tribute to former party leader and Scottish Labour MP John Smith, who died 20 years ago in May.

Blair Jenkins, who heads the pro-independence campaign group Yes Scotland, said he agreed with Mr Miliband's desire to create a country that was "fairer, socially just and more equal".

However, he added: "But the reality is that the UK is one of the most unequal countries in the developed world. That's happened not by an act of God, but from deliberate policy decisions of successive Westminster governments over many decades of failure.

"Growing numbers of Labour supporters are realising that Westminster isn't working for Scotland and hasn't been for a very long time.

"That has not diminished their desire to build a better and fairer nation which is as strong today as it was when John Smith was Labour leader."

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