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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006, 18:24 GMT
Stephen spells out 'new localism'
Nicol Stephen
Nicol Stephen said the Lib Dems were gunning for election success
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen has outlined plans to devolve control of health and education away from Scottish Executive ministers.

Addressing delegates at his party's spring conference in Aviemore, Mr Stephen said "new localism" would help the Lib Dems to overtake Labour.

He promised schools would be open to all and ridiculed Labour's flagship policy of city academies in England.

Delegates backed a call for a cut in party spending during elections.

Mr Stephen said education would become a key election battleground and predicted the Lib Dems would perform strongly.

"Let's get the best headteachers moving to new schools and new challenges every five or seven years - using their skills to prevent complacency in our best performing schools and to transform poorly-achieving schools," he said.

When Liberal Democrats go forward into the next year we will be the clear champions of localism
Nicol Stephen
Scottish Lib Dem leader

"And if it means we should pay more to get the best teachers in areas with the hardest challenges, where they need it most, I say we should."

Mr Stephen dismissed Labour and Tory education policies and the "false choice" of city academies that benefited only a few.

He added: "When Liberal Democrats go forward into the next year we will be the clear champions of localism - a belief that local people can get things right without the help of the minister."

Mr Stephen also pointed to the Lib Dems' Dunfermline by-election triumph as proof that people were ready to break traditional voting patterns to back new ideas.

He said the result, if replicated in next year's Holyrood election, would see the party win 23 additional seats.

Green pledge

"That is the scale of the opportunity we now have - a party to lead Scotland," he added.

Earlier, delegates backed calls for a lower cap on party election spending as the conference reacted to the row over secret loans to the Labour Party.

But delegates rejected setting a specific limit of 50,000 on donations by individuals and organisations, believing this was inflexible and took no account of inflation.

Environment Minister Ross Finnie told delegates that the Lib Dems were the greenest of all the political parties.

"No mainstream political party in Scotland places its commitment to the environment more centrally than the Scottish Liberal Democrats," he said.

View a report from the conference

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