Nick Clegg apologises for tuition fees pledge

"There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn't stick to it and for that I am sorry."

Nick Clegg has filmed an apology for the party's pledge over tuition fees, which will be broadcast to coincide with the Liberal Democrat party conference.

The Lib Dem leader says: 

"I'd like to take the opportunity to set a few things straight. When I meet people around the country, it's obvious that you have strong and pretty mixed reactions to things the Liberal Democrats have done in government . . . I meet people who are disappointed and angry that we couldn't keep all our promises, above all our promise not to raise tuition fees."

He that it was a "mistake" to make the pledge, when the only way that Lib Dems would be in power was as a coalition partner of Labour or the Tories, who wanted to raise fees. Clegg adds:

"There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn't stick to it and for that I am sorry. . . When we're wrong, we hold our hands up. But when we're right we hold our heads up too. We were right to leave the comfort of opposition to face the realities of Government and I know we are fighting for the right things."

Making the video is a bold move from Clegg: will it "detoxify" the Lib Dem brand, or cement the image of him as a weak leader who has lost his core voters' support? Here's the video, courtesy of ITV: decide for yourself.

Nick Clegg. Source: ITV News

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.