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Lib Dem leader Farron blasts 'authoritarian' SNP over attack on civil liberties

Published 19/07/2015

Tim Farron said there is a sense of an
Tim Farron said there is a sense of an "almost Orwellian, big brother, authoritarianism" in Scotland

The SNP is attacking civil liberties by overseeing an "almost Orwellian, big brother, authoritarianism" while in government, the Liberal Democrat leader has claimed.

Tim Farron said police in the Highlands had been "tooled up" following the development of a "politicised" force, while the development of an ID database and CCTV facial recognition software added to the sense that personal freedoms are being lost.

Mr Farron also ruled out an election pact with Labour as he accused the Conservatives of allowing their donors to effectively "buy elections".

He signalled there would be no future coalition between his party and the Tories or Labour unless they promised electoral reform.

Mr Farron added he would like former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg to be a "key part" of his team.

Speaking on BBC 1's Andrew Marr show, the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP said: "I'm very close to Scotland, we share - I hope this isn't a foul word - an ITV region with Scotland where I am and we get a very great sense of what's going on in Scotland, lots of families who are Scottish.

"It's important we, south of the border, have an understanding of what nationalism is.

"I think it's absolutely right to pay tribute to what has been a very exciting movement with the SNP and their success in the election. It's important not to be ungracious towards them.

"However, it's important to note what the nationalists are doing in government. They have a single, central, politicised police force where police on the streets of the Highlands - and there aren't many streets in the Highlands - are automatically now tooled up.

"We have an ID database which is very similar to the one that Tony Blair tried to introduce. In Edinburgh they're setting forward plans to have facial recognition software on CCTV.

"So there's a real sense of an almost Orwellian, big brother, authoritarianism up there and that makes me understand, by the way, that there is no room for the Labour Party in Scotland.

"You might think that's a peculiar thing to say but what are the SNP? They are centre-left and authoritarian - in other words, just like the Labour Party."

Mr Farron said he was not a "tribalist" and believed the Lib Dems should work with others to achieve what they want, although he ruled out an election pact with Labour.

He said: "I see a real power grab from the Tories as they allow their big donors to buy elections effectively, because of an unreconstructed party funding system, and indeed see the boundary changes and other ways in which I think David Cameron is either accidentally or more likely cynically pushing Scotland further and further from the Union, perhaps to entrench Tory power in England and Wales."

Mr Farron described that as "terrifying", adding they need to work with other parties to prevent this situation.

He also sought to stress his support for equality amid continuing questions around his Christian beliefs.

Mr Farron said: "Let me absolutely crystal clear - I'm a liberal, I absolutely support equality and I'm passionate about LGBT+ rights, for example, and as the leader of a liberal party that is something that will be top at of my agenda throughout the time I am leader of our party, not just defending the law on equal marriage but also saying there are areas it needs to be extended.

"One area of concern that many liberals had, and I was one of those, was that, for example, transgender people don't have the same access to equal marriage as others because of what is known as the spousal veto.

"That area of liberty, freedom of equality is important to me."

Asked if promises on electoral reform are needed to open up the possibility of a future Lib Dem coalition with Labour or the Conservatives, Mr Farron told BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics: "I think that's the bottom line, yes."

Questioned if Mr Clegg would be given a frontbench role, Mr Farron said: "I'd certainly love him to.

"If we had one bench I'd be delighted, however, with the bit of a bench we have, the reality is Nick Clegg is a towering figure.

"It's a phrase people have trotted off in an almost glib fashion these last few weeks - that history will be kind to Nick Clegg. It jolly well will and I think people are already beginning to see what an incredibly brave and decent man he is.

"I'm sure he's got a massive future and if he's anything to do with me then absolutely he will be a key part of my team."

Mr Farron also said his party, which has 102 peers, would not be a "reckless and destructive" opposition in the Lords.

He said: "We understand they have a legitimacy as the largest party and we will listen to those things, and the Liberal Democrat peers have a fantastic track record of scrutinising legislation - many of them have, of course, been involved in government themselves."

On respecting the Salisbury Doctrine, in which attempts to ensure government bills mentioned in an election manifesto are not voted down by peers, Mr Farron said: "We'll be very respectful and we'll be very constructive but our job is to fight for the British people, not to the establishment."

Drew Hendry, SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, said Mr Farron's "silly comments" highlight to Scots how "out of touch he is with the reality north of the border".

In a statement, Mr Hendry said: "His claims bear no resemblance to the politically engaged, energised nation Scotland has become since the referendum.

"His repeated ridiculous remarks about Scotland are embarrassing to his own party.

"They are so wrong that they underline why his party was comprehensively rejected by the people of Scotland in May, while a poll this week put support for the SNP at 60% on the constituency vote as people continue to put their trust in us.

"By contrast, Lib Dem support is just 5% in Scotland."

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