Wallace: We did not sell out for office

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The Independent Online
JIM WALLACE, the first Liberal Democrat to enter a government coalition since the Second World War, rejected claims yesterday that he had sold out his principles for ministerial office.

Mr Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, was signing a deal that makes him deputy to Donald Dewar, Scotland's First Minister, and pledges his party to back a joint programme with Labour. "I have certainly not sold out the party," said Mr Wallace, who is facing dissent from some Liberal Democrat colleagues. "We have maintained our policies, we have maintained our principles. More than that we are now getting an opportunity to put those principles into practice."

After shaking hands with his new deputy, Mr Dewar said: "We believe that the decision is right for our respective parties. Much more importantly it is right for the Parliament and for the wider community of Scotland. We should be capable of moving beyond party boundaries and acting for the common good."

Mr Wallace denied claims by Donald Gorrie, one of three Liberal Democrat MSPs who voted against the coalition, that he had joined "a bunch of liars". Mr Wallace said: "I do not believe that I am working with people who are a bunch of liars. This partnership is founded on the basis of trust and mutual respect. I have that trust and respect for Donald and his colleagues."

However, confusion prevailed over the issue of university tuition fees, which the Liberal Democrats want abolished and which almost scuppered the coalition pact. The agreement promises an independent review of funding for higher education, to which Liberal Democrats are free to make their case.

Labour contends that once the Scottish Government decides its attitude to the review, collective responsibility applies to ministers and to their parties.

Mr Dewar said: "Obviously individuals and parties will be able to make their own representations to the inquiry but the coalition partnership itself will work on the principle that its members accept the responsibility of collective decision-making and the parties in the Parliament support the decisions that are taken."

Some Liberal Democrat MSPs disagree. Mr Gorrie said yesterday: "I will continue to be a robust critic of the Government whether it is a coalition government including Liberal Democrats or a Westminster Labour government."

Mr Dewar and Mr Wallace are clearly hoping that the tuition fees issue will melt away in the more general review and, even if some 17 Liberal Democrats break ranks, there will be enough left to support Labour, which is currently nine seats short of a majority.

Opposition parties were quick to pour scorn on the deal. Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, said the Liberal Democrats had "been bought and sold for the deputy's badge", while David McLetchie, the Scottish Tory leader, called the agreement "a betrayal, a shabby deal ... which has sold out on Scotland's students and their families".