Leaders issue New Year messages
31 December 2011
Last updated at 00:09
The looming independence referendum has dominated New Year messages from Scotland’s four main political leaders.
First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond called on Scots to start taking control of their own destiny in 2012.
Labour’s Johann Lamont said a vote on independence should be held next year, while Conservative leader Ruth Davidson wants it “sooner rather than later”.
Willie Rennie acknowledged hard times electorally but said “strong” Lib Dem voices were still needed in Scotland.
ALEX SALMOND, SNP LEADER AND FIRST MINISTER
First Minister Alex Salmond called on Scots to live up to their country’s international reputation as a land of technological and scientific innovation and take control of their own destiny, in his New Year message.
But he said the country needed “the political and economic power to make the most of these strengths and resources”.
“The Scottish people have shown a hunger for more powers in order to secure a fairer, as well as a more prosperous future, and I believe optimism has been chosen over pessimism,” he said.
“My priority as First Minister as we go into 2012 is to ensure all Scots have the security and fulfilment that comes from the opportunity to work.
“That’s why we are investing in a range of capital projects to create jobs, guaranteeing an education or training place for every 16-19 year old and delivering 25,000 modern apprenticeships a year.
“With greater powers we could do so much more and we would be much less at risk from the UK’s counterproductive obsession with austerity at all costs.
“Next year will mark a further shift in the debate on Scotland’s future as we move towards a referendum on independence in the second half of the parliament.
“I am confident that Scotland will decide to take full control of our own destiny and join the international community in our own right.”
JOHANN LAMONT, SCOTTISH LABOUR LEADER
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont used her New Year message to “challenge Alex Salmond to make 2012 the year of the referendum”.
Ms Lamont also called for “urgent action to tackle unemployment” which she described as a “national crises”.
She said: “There are now over a quarter of a million Scots out of work. Unemployment has risen for the last three months. We now have higher unemployment than the UK as a whole. One in four young people is out of work. Scotland is in the grip of a national jobs crisis.
“We need to see a radical change of course. There is no doubt that what the Tories are doing is a disaster for the economy, but the Scottish government pointing and blaming someone else is not a sufficient economic response and does nothing to help those on the dole.”
Ms Lamont said she was offering to work with the Scottish government in efforts to curb unemployment but stressed that uncertainty over the country’s constitutional future must be addressed.
She said: “Like so many people, I love Scotland too much to believe in separation. But the SNP have won the right to hold a referendum on Scotland leaving the rest of the United Kingdom.
“There is nothing in the SNP manifesto which stops them from naming the day for a referendum now. They should get on with it. Waiting is holding Scotland back.
“I say to Alex Salmond – if you are confident of your case, stop ducking and diving and dodging and deflecting. Name your day and make 2012 the year of the referendum.”
RUTH DAVIDSON, SCOTTISH CONSERVATIVE LEADER
In her New Year message, Ruth Davidson called on Alex Salmond “to stop acting like an agitator-in-chief” and challenged him to hold a referendum on independence as soon as possible.
She also acknowledged “tough times” across the UK “since the full extent of Labour’s debt-and-deficit fantasy economics came home to roost”.
Ms Davidson said: “The medicine is a painful remedy but not acting would be catastrophic – think of the situations in Greece, Italy and Ireland. The UK coalition government is working hard and doing well in steading the ship and rebalancing the economy.
“Against this backdrop – when ordinary Scots are worried about their job, making ends meet and their children’s futures – it can seem anachronistic for Scottish politicians to spend so much time talking about the constitution.
“People are right to wonder why but it is the elephant in the room. I want nothing more than for Scottish MSPs to do what they were elected to do and for the Scottish government to do what it was elected to do – represent the people of Scotland and work hard to improve the health, education, justice and culture of our nation.
“Alex Salmond was elected First Minister of the devolved administration, but often acts like the agitator in chief.
“He is picking fights with Westminster, creating division to further his goal of separatism when what Scotland really needs and wants is both of its governments – in Westminster and Holyrood – working together to improve jobs, training and opportunities for all.
“That is why I believe we need a referendum that is clear, unambiguous and not open to legal challenge. And, as two thirds of Scots agree, we need it sooner rather than later.”
WILLIE RENNIE, SCOTTISH LIBERAL DEMOCRATS LEADER
In his message, Willie Rennie acknowledged difficult times for his party in Scotland after it had joined a coalition government at Westminster with the Conservatives.
He admitted it had been “nearly wiped off from the Scottish Parliamentary map” during May’s Holyrood election.
“I got it. I understood why that happened,” he said.
“But equally I am convinced that liberalism, not nationalism, will dominate Scottish political landscape in the years ahead. Our values are embedded in a rich seem of Scottish history and endure despite political setbacks.
“Our small team in the Scottish Parliament has shown over the last six months why we need strong liberal voices.
“On centralising of the police, places for college students, housing for those in need, the Supreme Court, equal marriage, riots, prison reform, sectarianism and so many other issues we have struck a strong liberal note whilst others have been silent or ineffective.
“My liberal vision is a Scotland which politicians in Holyrood give power away to local communities rather than horde it for themselves; makes decisions for the long term interest, not quick fixes; is socially mobile where people from all backgrounds get a chance to get up and on in the world; and is outward looking, maintain strong alliances with the rest of the UK family, Europe and the world.”
Mr Rennie compared the challenge of reversing his party’s fortunes to climbing a mountain, and added: “The party started to climb in May and we’re now able to look back to where we started. I am determined to keep on climbing in 2012 because Scotland needs strong liberal voices.”