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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
Stephen details Lib Dem blueprint
Nicol Stephen is the current favourite to take over
Nicol Stephen is the current favourite to take over
Nicol Stephen has unveiled his personal manifesto to become the next leader of the Scottish Lib Dems.

Mr Stephen promised lower business taxes, fully funded student grants and no new nuclear power.

The announcement came a day after fellow contender Mike Rumbles launched his big push to succeed Jim Wallace, who has announced he is stepping down.

Party members begin voting this weekend. The final day for returning ballot papers is Thursday, 23 June.

Mr Stephen has refused to rule out a coalition deal with any party but insisted he would take the Lib Dems into the 2007 election independently.

To create a truly pro-business environment I think we have to look at new powers coming to Scotland
Nicol Stephen
Lib Dem leadership candidate

Launching his manifesto at Holyrood, Mr Stephen said his party should look towards taking over the leadership of Scotland.

He promised to look at cutting business rates to "at or below" current UK levels.

He said: "I believe we can bring business tax down using existing powers but to create a truly pro-business environment I think we have to look at new powers coming to Scotland."

He said the introduction of the graduate endowment, which replaced student tuition fees, was a coalition compromise.

"The Labour Party did not want to abolish tuition fees and we were fiercely determined to shift from that position and to shift from tuition fees," he said.

'Time for change'

Elsewhere, Mr Stephen promised to give councils more power to run the NHS, especially in the primary sector.

Mr Stephen said he wanted to make health services equally available throughout Scotland by reforming health boards and opposing foundation "super hospitals".

He also stated an opposition to new nuclear power developments, defended his decision as Scotland's transport minister to approve the M74 extension and pledged not to demonise young people.

He added: "Far too many people are disillusioned and disinterested by politics and part of that is the language that is used against them.

Mike Rumbles
We both want to see more votes for the Liberal Democrats and more seats for the Liberal Democrats but we have a different approach
Mike Rumbles
Lib Dem leadership candidate

"It's got to change in my view."

Mr Stephen is widely regarded to be the front runner in the two-horse race, but with the new leader to be elected under a one-member-one-vote system, Mr Rumbles said there is "all to play for".

The West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MSP said continuing to take a "not ruling anything out" approach would not appeal to potential new voters.

He said: "We now face a new political landscape in Scotland, we've overtaken the SNP and the Tories - we've now got to really challenge the Labour Party, the establishment in Scotland, if we want to move forward from second place to first.

"There is a difference in strategy as to how Nicol and I would achieve this.

"We both want to see more votes for the Liberal Democrats and more seats for the Liberal Democrats but we have a different approach to achieving that."

Mr Rumbles has set out tough coalition terms, including the abolition of council tax and more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

And he has also promised to give party members more power on shaping policy and taking crucial party decisions.

Mr Stephen, who represents Aberdeen South, said Mr Rumbles' strict stance on coalition government was "the wrong approach".


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