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Nick Clegg makes a plea for Scots to stay in the Union

NICK Clegg appealed to Scotland to stay in the Union yesterday as his office was forced to say he had no plans to quit as Liberal Democrat leader if the party loses power at the next General Election.

PASSION: Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, delivers a keynote speech on the integrity of the UK. Picture: Getty Images
PASSION: Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, delivers a keynote speech on the integrity of the UK. Picture: Getty Images

In his keynote speech to the LibDem spring conference, Mr Clegg told delegates one of the things he loves about Britain is that "we are a family of four different countries, each with their own characters, traditions and good-natured rivalries". "And that's why I want to see - we all want to see - Scotland stay in our family of nations later this year," he added.

However, growing speculation and confusion about Mr Clegg's own position threatened to overshadow the speech, with Highlands MP Danny Alexander earlier forced to deny allegations he was "on manoeuvres" for the top job.

The LibDem Chief Secretary to the Treasury said there was no vacancy, adding the party was united behind Mr Clegg and not some kind of "loose scrum".

However, Mr Clegg's office initially refused to confirm the LibDem would serve a full term if re-elected in 2015. His spokesman said: "We have always said he will lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election and beyond that into government."

Pressed again, he said the party wanted to "concentrate on the moment". Within hours, however, that position had changed, to include a commitment to serve a full five years as leader, but only if the party was part of another coalition government after the next General Election.

At that stage a spokesman for Mr Clegg said: "If the Liberal Democrats are back in government again (after 2015) Nick Clegg intends to serve a full term (as leader)."

The position changed for the third time in as many hours just as short while later. This time the party said Mr Clegg would stay on as leader until 2020 - no matter what happened in the 2015 General Eection. Political observers predict a tough election for the party - currently hovering at around 10% in the polls.

But Mr Clegg's spokesman said: "He intends to be the leader of the Liberal Democrats whether or not we are in government."

There has been intense speculation Mr Clegg intends to purse a career in Europe after his time as LibDem leader and Deputy Prime Minister is up.

Other potential leadership contenders are thought to include the Business Secretary Vince Cable and the party's president Tim Farron, although Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has been mentioned as well.

During his speech Mr Clegg hit out at Ukip, suggesting the party was leading the UK towards a narrow and insular view of itself and the world. "We are the guardians of a modern and tolerant Britain," he told the party faithful.

And in scenes reminiscent of David Cameron's speech last year - after the Russians suggested the UK was a small island on the edge of Europe no-one listened to - Mr Clegg also issued a full-blooded love letter to what he described as the idiosyncrasies of the UK.

"I love that a country capable of extraordinary pomp and ceremony can still retain a spiky irreverence towards its establishment. A country where we line the streets waving our Union Jacks wildly to welcome the arrival of Prince George, and the next moment we're chuckling at Private Eye's front page: 'Woman Has Baby'.

"I love that we insist on queuing when we go abroad, even when the locals don't. I love that the BBC and NHS are known and respected across the planet. I love that our cities are home to every race, religion, colour and language in existence."

He added: "I love how excited we get at the glimpse of any sun, insisting on staying out in our T-shirts and flip-flops - even when it's obviously still cold."

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