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The BBC's Brian Taylor reports
"Mr Kennedy said it was critical to be frank with voters"
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Saturday, 31 March, 2001, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Kennedy calls for election delay
Charles Kennedy with Jim Wallace after his speech
Mr Kennedy applauded his party's record in coalition
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has urged Tony Blair not to call a May general election.

He told the party's Scottish spring conference in Pitlochry that it would be "thoroughly inappropriate" to hold the election in the midst of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

There has been newspaper speculation that the contest will be delayed beyond May because of the outbreak.

And Mr Kennedy told party activists: "Having spoken to a range of people whose livelihoods are disrupted, if not destroyed, by foot-and-mouth, I have come to the conclusion that there should not be a general election on May 3.

I have taken steps to ensure that our party is being given strict instructions throughout rural areas that there is to be no attempt to campaign in person at livestock farms

Charles Kennedy
"I also think that the Prime Minister has to tell the country, and tell us within the next day or two, when he intends to hold an election so that the current uncertainty can be brought to a close.

"That decision has got to be based on the rational scientific advice that he has at his disposal."

However, if an election is called, Mr Kennedy said his party would create no-go areas in the countryside.

"I have taken steps to ensure that our party is being given strict instructions throughout rural areas that there is to be no attempt to campaign in person at livestock farms," he said.

Shining example

"To do so would invite escalation and potentially spread the disease."

In his keynote speech, Mr Kennedy also said the party north of the border was setting a "shining example" as part of the Scottish Executive coalition with Labour.

And he highlighted a pledge to give the Scottish Parliament an extra 2.5bn over five years as part of the Liberals' alternative budget.

Mr Kennedy said the party would be going into the election in the unique position of being part of a national government.

"The example you have set in Scotland is a shining example for the rest of Britain," he told delegates.

"Because of your work, we have a story to tell as never before."

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace called for the election to be postponed
He pointed to the abolition of tuition fees, free personal care for the elderly, and extra cash for schools and hospitals.

But he said there was only so much that could be done in Scotland without a more ambitious Westminster government.

He said his party would give an extra 2.5bn to the Scottish Parliament over five years to recruit more teachers, doctors and nurses, cut class sizes and do more to tackle crime and improve public transport.

And he said: "We are going to end once and for all the scourge of pensioner poverty in our land."

Turning to his election rivals, he described the Scottish National Party as an "irrelevance" at Westminster and accused Labour of a "poverty of ambition" in government. "People are seeing through this government," he said.

'Fears and prejudices'

But he turned most of his fire on the Tories, describing their policy as "a complete mess" and saying that the Conservatives would want to play to prejudice over Europe.

"We are more than happy to talk about Europe, but we will appeal to people's hopes - not their fears and prejudices.

"We will put a coherent and rational case of why we are better being part of Europe," he said.

He also said that the Lib Dems should not lose sight of the case for the environment and the green agenda.

His rallying call was warmly received by delegates, who gave their party leader a standing ovation.

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See also:

31 Mar 01 | Scotland
Conference hears exams call
30 Mar 01 | Scotland
Wallace tells Blair to 'come clean'
20 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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Kennedy tells party to get ready
16 Mar 01 | Talking Politics
Fight like we could win
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