UK Place Not Safe, Says Rennie

Scotland's place in the UK remains under threat despite the No vote in the independence referendum, Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will warn today.

He will urge voters at the forthcoming general election not to be fooled by the SNP's claim that it is now seeking "home rule'' within the UK, insisting independence remains its goal and that it is laying the groundwork for another referendum.

He cited previous instances of the SNP "redefining'' its message after the votes are cast, such as claiming the 2011 election win was an "endorsement'' of its demand for the devolution of alcohol excise duties or potentially reneging on its pledge never to vote on English-only laws at Westminster.

Scottish independence remains "just one ballot paper away from happening'' if the SNP gain another mandate for a referendum, he will say.

In a speech to the David Hume Institute in Edinburgh today, Mr Rennie is expected to say: "There is still a risk to Scotland's place in the UK, and to the jobs and prosperity that rely on us being part of the UK.

"The SNP want independence by the back door.

"As a minimum, they say they want a form of ultra-extreme devolution that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world and which would inevitably tip Scotland into independence.

"They call it home rule but that great advocate of home rule William Gladstone would be appalled at the sleekit redefinition of this liberal policy. William Gladstone was no nationalist and Alex Salmond is no home ruler.

"But that's not the only risk from them.

"The SNP have a habit of redefining what an election was about after the votes have been counted. They change and change again their position on fundamental issues.

"That is a strong charge for me to make.

"But look at the 2011 Scottish election. The election was all about issues such as the council-tax freeze, but after the votes were counted the SNP said it was an endorsement of the devolution of alcohol excise duties.

"I can tell you not a single one of the thousands of voters I met during or after that campaign had said anything about that.

"They say they don't vote on English matters at Westminster. But now they say they might.

"They told us the day before the referendum that it was a once-in-a-generation thing. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon stood beside a poster saying 'One Opportunity'. The day after that referendum they started planning the next one.

"I find it inconceivable that their target to win every Scottish constituency in May will not result in an attempt by them to get independence by the back door, regardless of what they say now.

"The former first minister told newspapers last week he now only wants 'home rule', not independence. But only 20 months ago he said that 'home rule' was independence.

"Confused? Well, you should be. This would all be intriguing word games if it wasn't all just one ballot paper away from happening.

"All the evidence is that if you vote for them today, you won't find out until tomorrow what they are claiming it all means.

"Those who thought that winning the referendum by almost half a million votes was enough to put the issue to bed for a generation or even a lifetime need to think again.

"The nationalist campaign continues. They will use your vote in May for their cause, not for anything else.''

An SNP spokesman said: "Poor Willie Rennie - the Lib Dems have been propping up the Tories for so long that they are now alienating themselves from even their very few remaining supporters.

"Men, women, every single age group and demographic across Scottish society supports Scotland controlling all areas of government policy except for defence and foreign affairs. Among the remaining Liberal Democrat voters, 51% support this home rule and only 35% oppose.

"These are the powers to create jobs and build a fairer society that Scotland can only achieve by voting SNP in May's General Election.

"The issue of independence, by contrast, can only be decided in a referendum, which requires a party being elected in a Scottish Parliament election with a mandate to hold such a referendum.''