Sturgeon ‘solidarity’ message to UK

Published: Saturday 28th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Nicola Sturgeon will today extend a message of “friendship and solidarity” to voters in the rest of the UK, pledging the SNP will work with others to make a positive change at Westminster.

Opinion polls suggest her Scottish nationalists are on the verge of winning dozens of seats in May’s general election, and could hold the balance of power if there is a hung parliament.

But Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister and SNP leader, argued that the “outdated and discredited” Westminster system needed to change “once and for all”.

She vowed the SNP would work to make the Parliament “more responsive to the needs and demands of ordinary people” and would demand an alternative to “slash and burn austerity”.

Ms Sturgeon is to address the SNP’s biggest ever campaign conference in Glasgow this afternoon.

Since the independence referendum last year the party has seen its membership swell to more than 100,000, and 3,000 people are expected to attend this weekend’s event.

Ms Sturgeon will say: “T o ordinary people across these islands who feel just as let down by the out of touch Westminster system as we do, I have a very clear message.

“It is a message of friendship and solidarity.

“As long as Scotland remains part of the Westminster system, we will be your allies in seeking to shake up and reform that outdated and discredited system once and for all.

“Westminster needs to change. To be more responsive to the needs and demands of ordinary people, wherever they are in the UK.

“So to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I make this promise. The SNP stands ready to work with you in making that positive change.”

She will add: ” We will pursue policies that will win support from, and make life better for, people in every part of these islands.

“We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity.

“Responsible deficit reduction, yes – but cuts that tear at the very fabric of our society, penalise the poor, threaten our public services and stifle economic growth, let me make it crystal clear – those will not be in our name.”

Her speech comes after her predecessor Alex Salmond – who is standing for Westminster on May 7 – said the SNP would block any attempts by the Conservatives for form a minority government.

Mr Salmond, the SNP candidate for Gordon in Aberdeenshire, said if Scottish nationalist MPs hold the balance of power they would vote down a Conservative Queen’s Speech.

The SNP has firmly ruled out working with the Tories, but could do a deal with Labour after the election.

Ed Miliband has publicly rejected a coalition with Ms Sturgeon’s party, but the SNP could support Labour in the Commons on an issue by issue basis.

Ms Sturgeon will also use her conference speech to announce an extension of the Educational Maintenance Allowance payments to school pupils and college students north of the border.

While the scheme was scrapped south of the border, 35,000 young people in Scotland benefit from the initiative – with Ms Sturgeon to announce this will be increased to 57,000.

“When the Tories abolished the Educational Maintenance Allowance in England, we retained it in Scotland,” she will tell the conference

“Currently, Educational Maintenance Allowances help 35,000 young people stay in education.

“Today, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will extend that scheme so that it benefits even more young people.

“Firstly, we will raise the eligibility threshold to make payments available to an additional 10,000 school pupils. And, secondly, we will extend the scheme to part time college students, helping an additional 12,000 young people stay on in education.

“That means from the next year, a total of 57,000 16 to 19 years old will be entitled to receive an Educational Maintenance Allowance. That is real help for the young people who need it most to stay in education and fulfil their potential.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “The trouble with these empty words is they are being nakedly contradicted by the man who thinks he’s still SNP leader.

“While Nicola Sturgeon extends her hand in friendship, Alex Salmond uses his in a ludicrous attempt to slap the rest of the UK around.

“The SNP’s stated aim is destruction of the UK; no warm rhetoric from the First Minister disguises that.”

A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “Despite what the First Minister claims, Nicola Sturgeon’s real message to the people of England and Wales is to vote against Labour. She is the head of an anti-Labour coalition across the UK.

“People throughout the UK can work together to replace this rotten Tory administration with a Labour Government that will deliver the radical change Scotland needs.

“The way to get a Labour Government that will ban exploitative zero hours contracts, increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour and use the bankers’ bonus tax to get young Scots into work is to vote Labour.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat party president Malcolm Bruce MP said: “The SNP’s offer of friendship comes with a £180 billion price tag which threatens to wreck the economic recovery across the UK. Their reckless borrowing plans put the economy at risk all over again. They haven’t learnt the lessons of the last economic crash.

“While the Tories will cut public services and welfare too much and unnecessarily, the SNP, even more than Labour, will borrow too much and that will threaten the recovery. That will make it impossible to maintain the long term funding of public services.

“Only the Liberal Democrats have a clear and affordable plan to create a stronger economy and fairer society for Scotland where we will balance the books by 2018 and invest an extra £800 million in the Scottish NHS.”

Published: Saturday 28th March 2015 by The News Editor

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