Lib Dem calls for 'backbone' in fees stand

June 4, 1999

A senior Liberal Democrat has told lecturers that Scottish party members could cause a rift unless they vote to abolish tuition fees north of the border.

The party's further and higher education spokesman, Phil Willis, told Natfhe delegates that he would be meeting colleagues from the Scottish Liberal Democrats this week in the hope of putting "backbone back into some members".

The Scottish party decided to renege on an election promise to vote immediately with other opposition parties to scrap tuition fees in the new Scottish parliament. In return Labour gave the party a fees review and a share of power in the new parliament.

Mr Willis was pressed by delegates at Natfhe's higher education sector conference about the Liberal Democrats' stance on fees.

"It would split the party if in fact Liberal Democrats in Scotland did not accept the abolition of tuition fees," he said.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats maintain they are still opposed to fees and backbenchers in the new parliament could still vote with the Conservatives and Scottish Nationalists to scrap them following the review. But those Liberal Democrats who become part of the Scottish government may be bound by collective responsibility and have to vote with the Labour Party majority for their retention.

Mr Willis said: "The review that's going on at the moment will decide I don't know what but I will tell you this, I am going to meet Scottish colleagues next week."

There is speculation that if Scotland did vote to abolish fees for Scottish-domiciled undergraduates, the position of other UK students studying at Scottish universities would be so anomalous that the government at Westminster would be forced to reconsider fees.

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