WILLIE Rennie has claimed Nicola Sturgeon's "timidity" will stop the SNP winning a majority at Holyrood.

The Scottish Lib Dem leader said the Nationalists had lost the momentum which carried them to a crushing victory in Scotland in last year's Westminster election, when they won 56 out of 59 seats.

In an interview with The Herald, he also unveiled plans to give local councils a veto over strategic policing decisions, including the deployment of armed officers, in their areas.


Live Q&A with Willie Rennie

Posted by The Herald - Scotland on Tuesday, 5 April 2016

He ruled out a return to regional forces, but said a local veto would restore democratic accountability to policing after the creation of Police Scotland.

According to opinion polls, the Scottish LibDems will struggle to match the five Holyrood seats they won in 2011.

Some surveys have indicated they are set to be overtaken as Scotland's fourth party by the Greens.

But Mr Rennie - who is campaigning on a pledge to raise income tax by 1p and invest the revenue in education - insisted his party would "grow".

And he launched an outspoken attack on the SNP, as Nicola Sturgeon ended a two day visit to Orkney and Shetland when she put the LibDems' last remaining Holyrood constituencies in her party's sights.

Dismissing opinion polls showing the SNP on course to win a majority at Holyrood, he said: "The atmosphere is quite different from last year.

"Nicola Sturgeon is getting quizzed, she's defensive.

"When Alex Salmond was in charge, he would run very fast.

"He would take new initiatives and we (the opposition parties) would all have to run to catch up.

"We were the ones saying no his plans but it's the other way round now. The dynamic has changed.

"We're challenging her. She is cautious and people are noticing that more."

He claimed the SNP was struggling to defend its record, especially on education, after nine years in government.

He also said Holyrood's new tax and welfare powers had made is harder for Ms Sturgeon "to blame anyone else".

He said: "She is so scared to move that she is timid and unambitious.

"I'm not sure what John Swinney is whispering in her ear.

"I'm wondering whether John Swinney is playing a big role in the very downbeat, mundane, bank manager-ish message."

He said the SNP's tax plans, which will see most workers pay slightly less than at present, were the clearest example of the party's "cautious" approach.

"They just use these important issues for narrow constitutional gain rather than dealing with the issues themselves.

"It's all about keeping everything steady so you can get independence.

"Blame Westminster, keep it smooth, that's what everything is about."

Responding to recent comments by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, Mr Rennie emphatically ruled out backing independence to keep Scotland in the EU.

He said: "To compound division with more division would not help Scotland. To wrench us out of our second biggest market then to wrench ourselves out of our biggest market would have economic consequences and cause cause further divisions."

He added: "We are the only party that's unambiguously in favour of staying in the EU and the UK."

Mr Rennie, who opposed the merger of Scotland eight constabularies into a single national force, unveiled plans to give councils a veto over policing strategy in their area.

He said: "You would not get councils behaving recklessly but what it will do is make the police chief come to the councils and explain what they are doing.

"You wouldn't end up with the ludicrous situation where highland council expressly stated is did not want the police to be armed during routine patrols, only to be ignored by Police Scotland.

"The threat of a veto, which I don't think would ever really be used, would be enough to change the dynamic."

He described the present level of local scrutiny as "tokenistic".

Mr Rennie also took part in a Facebook Q&A with Herald readers, answering questions on his party's tax plans, fracking and the battle to hold onto seats in the Northern Isles.

It can be viewed on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/heraldscotland