Nick Clegg sparked a major new coalition row last night after claiming the Tories had played no role in delivering tax cuts on whisky, petrol and diesel and North Sea oil and gas.
The deputy prime minister suggested that the landmark Wood Review – which is expected to help trigger billions of pounds of new investment in the offshore sector – would not have happened if the Conservatives were governing by themselves.
The Liberal Democrat leader made the same claim about the multimillion-pound investment in carbon capture and storage (CCS) at Peterhead, the 5p-a-litre fuel discount on the islands, and the freezing of whisky duty in this month’s Budget.
The Tories dismissed the remarks last night as “stretching credibility”.
Mr Clegg and party delegates were due to arrive in Aberdeen today for the start of the Scottish Lib Dem conference.
In an exclusive interview with the Press and Journal, Mr Clegg was asked if the recent Scotch whisky duty freeze, Peterhead CCS investment or island fuel discount would have happened under the Tories.
“No, absolutely not,” he responded.
Pressed on whether he would include Sir Ian Wood’s offshore review in the same category, Mr Clegg said: “Ed Davey set it up, so there, you’ve got your answer.
“It was a Lib Dem secretary of state who set it up, and of course you will have seen in the almost daily manner in which Bob Smith (West Aberdeenshire MP) and Malcolm Bruce (Gordon MP) and others have been pushing the case for changes in the House of Commons. This is something which is very close to the hearts of Lib Dems.”
He added: “It’s one of my principal jobs really, and that of every Liberal Democrat, to explain to people that whether it’s investing in clean energy, whether it’s the support for the oil and gas sector, whether it’s the huge tax cuts, whether it’s the initiatives that Danny Alexander has announced on whisky, on fuel duties and so on – none of these things would have happened without Liberal Democrats.
“I just hope that the more people look at what we’ve done, and not what we’re alleged to have done, that more people will realise that without the Liberal Democrats those measures just wouldn’t have happened.”
A Scottish Conservative spokesman hit back, saying: “The idea that Nick Clegg has been fighting hard for the whisky industry in Scotland is stretching credibility.
“Voters have clearly passed their verdict on the party since they joined the coalition in 2010.”
A Tory source at Westminster pointed out that Prime Minister David Cameron took the Cabinet to Aberdeen last month, and said it was Chancellor George Osborne driving forward tax breaks for the North Sea oil and gas sector.
Attacking the SNP, Mr Clegg also claimed that Scottish independence was the biggest risk to the country’s ongoing economic recovery, and claimed it would spell the end of the Shell-led Peterhead CCS project, which is now at the advanced design stage.
“The idea that we could secure the recovery by basically pulling the UK apart, I think is a very dangerous risk to take. I think nothing would jeopardise the recovery more than pulling Scotland out of the UK,” he said.
He added: “These big projects, these huge investments that we’re putting into the clean energy sector, for instance, none of that would be possible without the scale and the clout of the UK Government as a whole.”
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond pointed out that former Scottish Lib Dem chief executive Andy Myles said this week he would be voting “yes” in the independence referendum.
He said: “If Nick Clegg can’t even persuade people with lifelong links to his own party to vote no, he has absolutely zero chance with the ordinary voters of Scotland.”
Meanwhile, Mr Clegg refused to discuss the leadership credentials of his right-hand man, Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander, amid speculation that the Inverness MP has been positioning himself to take over as Lib Dem leader when he steps down.
“I’m simply not going to start writing my own political obituary right now,” he said. “Of course there will be a time and a place but it’s not now.”