THE LIBERAL Democrats in Scotland have sold students out over tuition fees. Their Judas price is a few petty posts and the miserly whiff of power. After all the promises of a "new politics" in Scotland, voters' wishes have been utterly ignored. Anyone who voted for the Liberal Democrats on 6 May, in the hope that they would at least defeat tutition fees, now finds fees will stay. Anyone who voted Labour for something different to the Liberal Democrats' views now finds the Liberal Democrats at the heart of government.
It has not been a process of slow rot, but a stampede to cynical compromise. On 6 May almost two thirds of voters chose parties which said clearly they were for an immediate end to tuition fees. The deal signed on 14 May between leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats is a declaration that fees will continue. "Tuition fees will be dead by Friday," enthused former Liberal Democrat leader Sir David Steel at the party's celebratory post-election press conference. It must be the first death where the victim never went cold and the supposed murderer offered a life support system.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Jim Wallace, now says his party's pledge to scrap fees was just "election rhetoric". As a result of the Lib-Lab pact the party which came fourth will get the deputy first minister post as well as other plum spots for guzzling from the Holyrood trough. Labour would be in trouble without the agreement with the Liberal Democrats to run the Scottish Parliament for four years. First minister Donald Dewar would not have a majority for fees or for the present PFI regime. He could have faced awkward votes over education, health and relations with the government in London.
"It has not been a slow rot, but a stampede to cynical compromise"
Instead Dewar can stick the Liberal Democrats' votes in his back pocket and try to ram through Tony Blair's policies with a tartan frill. The coalition deal promises an inquiry into student funding. But, contrary to some Liberal Democrat claims, it will not be put to a free vote when the report comes back in three months time. Instead the coalition executive, with its New Labour pro-fees majority, will decide its policy and that will be binding on the Liberal Democrats.
Some Liberal Democrats opposed the deal with Labour. Two Labour MSPs, John McAllion and Elaine Smith, were also against the deal. The Lib-Lab pact is another big step on the road to making Labour a "classless" party which puts the editors of the Sun and the Mail before trade unions. It is a step forward for "the project" so beloved of the Blair coterie. That is why Blair intervened in the coalition talks. He wanted to make sure they were firmly focused on pro-business policies. It is why British Liberal Democrat Paddy Ashdown told Wallace to sell out so as not to endanger even closer Lib-Lab cooperation at Westminster.
This week has been bitter confirmation that under New Labour and its Liberal Democrat partners it will be "business as usual" in the Scottish Parliament, unless there is a build up of pressure from ordinary people outside the chamber.
Edinburgh to scrap fees
Thursday 1 July
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THE ANGER in Scotland at this week's affront to democracy needs to be turned into effective protest. Students are already mobilising to fight for what people voted for-the scrapping of tuition fees-and the reinstatement of grants. They have called a march to the ceremonial opening of the Scottish Parliament on 1 July. It has already won the backing of students' associations at Edinburgh University, Dundee College, Paisley University, Ayr College, Glasgow Caledonian University, Reid Kerr College, Kilmarnock College and Clydebank College. Protesters will come from several parts of Scotland and converge on Falkirk for an evening meeting on 29 June. They will then march on to Edinburgh.
Kenny Hannah, the president of Caledonian University Students' Association, told Socialist Worker, "We will be marching to show that we want fees removed as one of the first acts of the parliament and we don't want a fudge or a dirty deal." Every student and trade unionist should get behind the march and try to be in Edinburgh on 1 July. The NUS Scotland students' union insisted this week that it is still "totally opposed" to fees and is determined to carry the campaign forward. Its leaders should immediately support and build this march. And they should call on everyone who voted for an end to fees to do the same.
LABOUR HAS joined with the Tories to run Perth & Kinross council. The election result saw the Scottish National Party with 16 seats, Labour six seats, the Conservatives 11 seats, Liberal Democrats six seats and independents two. In an unprecedented "partnership" all the parties except the SNP joined together to take control. Labour will have the provost (top official) of the council, the Tories the deputy provost. But Labour is not alone in its readiness to make pacts with the devil. At the start of this week the SNP was negotiating with the Tories to jointly run Stirling council.