We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Willie Rennie speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat spring conference

March 16, 2013 6:41 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Speech by Willie Rennie MSP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats,Willie RennieWillie Rennie to Scottish Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Dundee:

One hundred years ago a remarkable Scot was born.

A Scot who is responsible for us being here today.

Who had an astounding mind, enduring belief and incredible loyalty.

And who took this party from the fringes to the mainstream.

Jo Grimond.

Many of our older members are members because of Jo.

That tells those of us who never met him that he was one of the remarkable characters of the last century.

And remarkable still because he never held government office.

I still draw on him as inspiration when I look at what we need to do.

Jo inspired a whole generation with his radical ideas and the way in which he challenged the establishment, from first to last.

He called for a federal United Kingdom in 1950, in his maiden speech.

And for employee share ownership in his final contribution to the House of Lords forty years later.

He even managed to question the Government on whether they would meet the Dalai Lama.

He knew we should try to change the world.

HE wanted to build that strong economy and fair society so that everyone had a chance to get on.

He was for the greater good.

And we mark with gratitude one hundred years.
Like Jo, the Liberal Democrats mean a lot to me.

It's not just because those liberal values of fairness, opportunity and the greater good run through my bones.

It's not just because of our heritage.

It's because we share those values and that heritage - together.

When it's hard, when our opponents gang up against us, we are there for each other.

Our outstanding win, against all odds, in Eastleigh was one of those moments.

Through all the noise, heat and fog the value of the Liberal Democrats shone bright.

To everyone who rallied round on the phones, on the streets, in the offices.

To Liberal Youth members who got their first taste of victory.

And most of all to Mike Thornton, the new Liberal Democrat MP for Eastleigh.

Thank you, Mike, for your work for your community and for our party that saw you defy the odds to win for us all.

We've got a bit of a track record for winning against the odds.

Modesty forbids me from mentioning it but I remember a certain by-election at the far end of Fife a few years ago when we scored a famous victory.

And we are turning our fortunes around again.

A few months ago we went from 2% to 26% in Kirkintilloch.

And only three weeks ago we slashed Labour's majority in Rutherglen - increasing our vote while all others fell.

David Baillie's campaign - with Robert Brown at his side - is an inspiration to us all.

Thank you David and Robert.

And there are other opportunities in the coming weeks to show we are ready to win support again.

On the 2nd of May there are two council by-elections.

I want everyone here to help the team in Caithness Landward and in Melrose.

This is another time for the Scottish Liberal Democrat family to come together.

I want us to win.

And with your help we can win.

Farhana Alam is an intelligent young mother of a young daughter.

I met her at the ceremony to celebrate Scottish Asian Women's achievements in Glasgow last week. I helped judge the awards.

Just after her daughter's first birthday Farhana was diagnosed with breast cancer.

A devastating discovery for the modest psychology graduate.

For enduring the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy, the operations, she is an inspiration.

But it is for what she has done since that truly inspires.

She has dedicated herself to assisting other young women with their battles against cancer.

She speaks to hundreds of Asian women about her experiences and the taboo of cancer.

It is that personal commitment, despite her experience, to aid her community that is truly inspirational.

It restores faith that we are there, not just for ourselves, but for one another.

Beyond the here and now; not just me, me, me.

The greater good.

That's why I am in politics.

I want change.

Where we think and do beyond what we need; to others in need, the future, people on the other side of the globe.

The greater good.

That's sometimes a hard call when we demand instant results before the next electoral test.

But it's looking beyond the immediate interest that will serve this country well.

It's why I am proud that it is our country that has committed to one of the biggest aid budgets in the whole world.

It's why I am proud we won the case to invest in a green future. Looking beyond our immediate needs. A plan on renewables that will lead the charge against climate change.

It's why I am proud that we are working to get the economy back on track for the long term.

It's why I am proud we are cutting tax for those on low and middle incomes;

Delivering a £600 tax cut for those who need it most.

Led by Nick Clegg, who spoke so powerfully of this yesterday, we are building a strong economy in a fairer society so that everyone has the chance to get on.

On aid, on the climate, on the economy, on fair tax it is the Liberal Democrats that are making the difference.

The SNP are making a difference too. But it's not such a positive difference .

For years they have told us that, if only we had the magical powers of independence, we could solve all known problems.

But we've had a sneak peek behind the veil.
A leaked report that shows that they fear independence almost as much as everyone else does.

They fear the volatile oil revenue.

They fear the cuts to pensions.
They fear the loss of public service jobs.

Well I have a message to John Swinney and Alex Salmond.

"Don't worry. At this rate there is no fear you're going to win".

That leaked government paper on oil revenues saw the Scottish Government fandango from "considerable uncertainty" to "little doubt" in just four days.

But with the troubles in the independence camp comes big responsibility for the Liberal Democrats.

After the good work by Sir Ming Campbell and his home rule commission we are providing a lead in the campaign for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

A massive transfer of financial and constitutional power is the lasting settlement.
Our plan for Home Rule in a Federal UK is gathering support from a wide range of bodies and thinkers.

From Reform Scotland's Devo Plus to Devo More from the IPPR, a consensus is emerging.

Now that Johann Lamont's group will report soon we are making progress.

With the Conservative leader speaking of a federal future we are, perhaps, very near a breakthrough moment.

It is possible to develop the consensus that No in the referendum actually means yes to more powers.

I make a direct appeal to the SNP.

I don't expect you to concede the referendum - yet.

What I hope is that you are preparing your case for more powers if you do lose.

There is a place ready for you at that table.

Be ready.

That breakthrough moment is possible.

Possible with a meeting of minds across the political spectrum.

A breakthrough for a lasting, settled solution.

And it is the Liberal Democrats that seek solutions.

We are constructive, seek consensus where possible and work for that greater good.

When we last met, in Dunfermline, I spoke about investing in the poorest 2-year-olds to give them the best start in life.

I spoke of the Nobel Laureate James Heckman and his passion.

I spoke about giving 24,000 2-year-olds nursery education every week.

Just like we are delivering in England.

You voted for the motion and I took our costed plan directly to the Scottish Government.

Yet the SNP said no.

Alex Salmond said he was listening. But he didn't.

John Swinney said he was up for change. But he wasn't.

And Education Secretary Mike Russell didn't say anything at all.

So the SNP rejected our plans.

But I can promise you now.

I won't rest until this government is matching its words with action and commits to giving our 2-year-olds a chance.

So that Scottish mothers of young children can go out and earn for their family knowing their children are getting the best start in life.

A chance to make a different life.

A chance to contribute to society and the economy.

A chance to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

That's the kind of fairer society I want to see.

It's unfortunate that the SNP don't listen to us more often.

Perhaps if they had listened to Tavish Scott we may not be facing the open warfare between the Chairman and Chief Constable of our new centralised police force.

Before the new force even exists they have achieved some astounding feats.

Turned civilian staff against police staff;

Turned the police authority against the police;

And turned their backs against local communities.

It's remarkable but they have turned our crime fighting force to an infighting force.

And, meanwhile, hundreds of police support staff still have no idea where they will be working or if they even have a job.

Our party should be very proud of Alison McInnes for leading the case against centralisation.

She has challenged them every step of the way:

In our debate in Parliament this week.

By going through the Bill line-by-line with patience and determination.

And in the heat of the chamber standing up to the First Minister.

In a democratic system we would be able to do something about this mess.

In a democratic system we would be able to hold people to account.

But democracy in our police was scrapped when the nationalists decided to appoint all the top posts, on long contracts, at the whim of the minister.

We know we need a new law to sort out the chaos of the single force.

But we need to go further;

We need a new law to give democratically elected people the chance to sort this out and to put some democracy back into our police.

When you see Kenny MacAskill you see the contrast with our Scottish Ministers.

Take Mike Moore, our very own Secretary of State for Scotland.

He calmly and professionally charmed the nationalists to back the Scotland Bill that they previously condemned as a "poison pill".

He outmanoeuvred one of his predecessors Michael Forsyth to sensibly grant the legal power for the referendum to the Scottish Government.

And he is proving to be more than a match for Alex Salmond on debating the merits of the United Kingdom.

He's been so successful that he has been dubbed "Scotland's James Bond" by the Sunday Mail.

I know Mike is secretly pleased with the title. I suppose I am too.

My only regret is that I had hoped to get there first.

It's time for a James Bond from Fife.

I could do that.

A secret gadget cunningly disguised as a sack of coal.

Shirley Bassey singing the theme - The Kelty Clippie.

The Spy Who Loved Methil.

Casino Rosyth.

Live and Let Dysart.

And just one more.

A View To Ochil.

But Mike it is.

As part of the UK Government's Quad, Danny Alexander's capacity and intelligence has steered the coalition through the one of the most challenging periods in our history.

Highlander and Scot Danny Alexander is at the beating heart of this government.

It is not the Conservatives that stand up for Scotland in the cabinet.

It's the Liberal Democrats.

A £600 tax cut for two million Scots;

Pension increases, restoring the link with earnings;
A new railway sleeper service;

Broadband for our rural communities;

The island fuel discount;

A Green Investment Bank;

Building a strong economy and fair society so that everyone gets a chance to get on.

And in Jo Swinson we have a minister who is prepared to take on the the rich and powerful.

Making sure everyone has a chance by cracking down on the pay-day loan charlatans who ruin lives and families;

On the side of consumers against vested interests on the Grocery Code and credit card surcharges;

Helping families with flexible working and shared parental leave.

Three Scots.

Three Liberal Democrats.

Working for the greater good.

Scottish Liberal Democrats, for Scotland, in Government.

For the thousands of people out of work in Scotland,

for the many more who have been forced to go part time,

for all those who have seen their pay fall in value,

for everyone who has seen their fuel bills rise, prices at the pumps soar and the cost of living grow.

We understand.

We understand that there is anxiety as to whether this period will ever end.

We know the realities.

We are not alone in the world but that doesn't make it any easier for those struggling to make ends meet.

The headwinds are strong but we have power in our hands to shape our way of life.

It's not a return to the old ways but to a sustainable, enduring, long term economy that lives within the constraints of our environment and natural resources.

It's an economy in which everyone gets the chance to contribute, to participate and enjoy the fruits of a sustainable future.

We need the talents and efforts of everyone to be a successful country.

I know we can do that right now in Scotland.

It's why it is so important that we invest in education for two years olds to give a family the chance to break the cycle of poverty.

It's why we need to invest in colleges to give people new skills for new jobs.

It's why the SNP need to work in partnership with the UK on the £1billion Youth Contract, so that young people can get their first chance in a job.

And it's why our plans to unlock £1.5 billion from Scottish Water can fund childcare, skills and new jobs.

Loans for businesses to help them grow; energy efficiency measures in homes for our environment; super-fast broadband; science research in Scotland's universities.

These are the kind of positive priorities that will reshape the way our economy works.

It's looking to the long term interest, not short term gain.

And it is the short term that is holding us back.

The Scottish Government's obsession with the behind-the-scenes patch-up job on the referendum is suffocating the country's long term interest.

The Futures Trust was supposed to spend £300million on schools and hospitals this year. They managed just twenty.

The SNP got £103m from the fossil fuel levy for renewable energy but syphoned off 15 within months.

They got £400million extra in capital from the UK Government but decided to hold back 200.

The message to the Scottish Government has to be:

Don't demand £400million in capital but keep 200 for a rainy day in the referendum campaign;

Don't demand the release of the fossil fuel levy for green energy if you're not going to use it.

Don't dismiss our constructive ideas for Scottish Water just for a cheap slogan.

And don't tell us you have a shovel-ready list if it's not ready for your shovel.

None of that is putting our Scottish economy first.

For goodness sake open your mind. Look beyond your referendum. Look at the real, practical steps that can be taken right now for the greater good.

The SNP need to listen carefully: Stop confusing our nation's ambition with your obsession.

Helping out David Baillie in his great Rutherglen by-election I met an old lady. I enquired as to whether she would be supporting David to be her next councillor.

She gave the smallest, most subtle nod that I have ever encountered.

In fact it was more a tick than a nod.

Enquiring further I sought confirmation that I had read the tick correctly.

In return she whispered. "Yes. But don't tell anyone".

She was definitely voting for David.

She respects us in government.

And she approved of David Baillie's efforts for the local community
But she was intimidated by the noisy opponents of the party.
Her vote helped David secure that great result.

Along with hundreds of others she backed the Lib Dems.

The lesson I learned that day is that we must instil confidence in those who support us but fear speaking out for us.

We need their voice to build our case.

That's why it's important to tell people about our work with conviction and belief.

Just like Jo Grimond who told others about the liberal cause with conviction and belief.

Jo's hundred year legacy is strong.

From the fringes to government.

From a voice on the backbenches to delivering change on the front bench.

So no more whispering.

Speak up for the Rutherglen lady.

Speak up for what have achieved.

Speak up for Jo.

Speak up ... for the greater good.