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Nick Clegg's speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat Spring Conference

March 28, 2014 3:31 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrats, we meet on the eve of a very special day.

From midnight tonight, Britain will be a different place. A place where, for the first time ever, couples can get married whether they are gay or straight.

Equal Marriage.

South of the border, the first weddings will take place between men and men, women and women. Within the coming months, these weddings will be taking place in Scotland too. Loving couples exchanging their vows - and making history as they do.

I hope that makes each of you feel extremely proud.

And not just because of the difference it will make for these individuals. It runs even deeper than that.

A gay friend of mine told me that, walking past Moss Bros the other day, he saw a window display of two grooms. He's not in a relationship, no current plans to get married. But he said that, as he passed that shop window, he literally felt himself walk a bit taller. He said he literally felt more equal to the people passing him in the street.

And if our change to the law means a single young man or young woman who wants to come out, but who is scared of what the world will say, now feels safer, stronger, taller - well, for me, getting into Coalition Government will have been worth it just for that.

It is a real pleasure to be back in Scotland so soon.

I was here just a few weeks ago for the Coalition Government's Regional Cabinet. During that visit Ed Davey, Alistair and I visited Peterhead Power Station, where we announced a revolutionary, never-been-done-before multi-million pound project that - by installing new Carbon Capture and Storage technology - could generate enough clean energy to power half a million homes. Jobs. Recovery. Growth spread across the whole of the UK. Action to tackle climate change. Liberal Democrats delivering in exactly the ways we said we would.

Our party will be descending on Scotland en masse this September for our second Autumn Conference in a row in Glasgow - this time it'll be two weeks after the referendum on Scottish independence has taken place.

I hope, and I believe, that when we meet on the Clyde six months from now it will be to celebrate the affirmation of our UK family of nations, and Scotland's place within it.

That decision is, of course, one for people in Scotland to take. I'm not here to hector, or lecture or frighten people - much as the SNP will doubtless want to claim that I have.

But I will say this: we live in an increasingly competitive, fast-moving and interconnected world. And we are all stronger together and poorer apart - Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland too.

Two days ago I went head to head with Nigel Farage, the Leader of the UK Independence Party, in a debate over whether or not Britain should remain in the EU.

In politics, there is always the temptation to overstretch an analogy, so I'm not going to claim that the SNP and UKIP are the same. Obviously there are very big differences.

But they do both want to bring an end to a partnership between nations that has been forged over time and serves us well. And they both represent the same impulse: to pull away, to break apart.

Nigel Farage talks about wanting to cause a political earthquake, and the metaphor is apt - because there is a clear fault line emerging in British politics today.

Either you believe that, in an uncertain world, we have strength in numbers - as our party believes.

Or you think - mistakenly in my opinion - that countries can stand alone and still stand just as tall.

It's seductive to some, there's no doubt about it: breast-beating nationalism always is. But leading a nation is about responding to the world as it is, not as we might like it to be.

And in the 21st Century, when our biggest problems have no respect for our borders: climate change, terrorism, organised crime…

When we are seeking to build strong and resilient economies in a global and interdependent world…

When power continues to shift at dizzying speed from West to East and North to South…

It is irresponsible to sow division and build walls between nations and communities.

So I hope that the people of Scotland vote No to independence on September 18th.

It can be tricky, of course, for someone from England to speak in Scotland about why we are better together. Say the wrong thing and within seconds you incur the wrath of a hundred cybernats just waiting to pounce.

But it's really important we talk about this. It's really important we show that, when we say we care about our family of nations, we mean it.

I'm British - yes, English as well, and my dad's half Russia, my mother's Dutch and my wife is Spanish - but I'm very definitely British. And I lead a party that is very definitely British too, with Scots at its core.

Not just because of the personalities - Willie, Danny, Ming, Charles, Alistair. And of course our recently elected Deputy Leader - Malcolm Bruce.

But also because of the causes we fight for.

When our party leads the way on rebalancing our economy, on creating jobs outside of the City of London, on making the UK a world leader in clean, green energy - we do so for all of our nations.

When Danny and I go into the Quad to hammer out the Budget with Cameron and Osborne, we are thinking of families across the UK. The huge £800 income tax cut by lifting the personal allowance, boosting childcare, freezing the duty on spirits to help the Whisky industry - real help for Scottish households and firms.

And we understand that it is by remaining open to one and other, by joining forces, that we best serve the millions of people we represent. It's intuitive for liberals, but the experience of governing in Westminster has brought this reality into even sharper relief.

Together we can deliver massive investment in the North Sea's future, with an economy able to absorb shocks or sudden reductions in revenue, like we've seen this year.

Together we have a single UK energy market that can subsidise Scottish renewables, so that we bring down our emissions while creating green jobs too.

Together we have a strong and secure currency, with a single set of rules for our businesses, giving them the stability to grow and giving investors the confidence to spend.

Of course the UK isn't perfect. Nor is Westminster. Nor is Brussels. Institutions, alliances, unions - by their very nature they are living, evolving things, in perpetual need of reform.

But the response to imperfection is not isolation.

And the United Kingdom is still the fastest growing economy in the G7. It has clout at the negotiating table, credibility with the markets. We are a leading nation in Europe, an economic superpower - something I am going to fight to defend. And by staying together we can continue to pool our strengths and achieve even more.

This isn't, of course, simply about the economics - as compelling as those arguments are.

People say to me: let the nationalists try and win over hearts, we'll try and win this referendum by convincing people's minds.

But this is about more than numbers and factual arguments. It's also about who we are: our bonds, our closeness, the ties that make us stronger on the world stage.

Like so many people across Britain, I know what it's like to be part of a family brimming with different heritages and traditions - that's what my family is like.

And for me it has always been this mix of identities - distinct yet overlapping - that makes our Union so great.

Scottish. English. Northern Irish. Welsh. British.

Across these isles so many people regard themselves as more than one - through birth, through travel, through marriage. We know each other. We understand one another. And for centuries we have shown that it is possible for nations to build unity out of difference, provided you learn to trust one and other and treat each other with respect.

That means something. And those of us who believe our nations should stay together now have a duty to show that we can keep building on this shared history, so that our future is as successful - more successful - than our past.

So this referendum is about capturing imaginations.

Just as it is right that we explain the risks and consequences of Scotland voting to exit the Union, we must also set out the opportunities of voting to stay.

The prospect of remaining in the UK must be just as thrilling as the drama of leaving it.

So let me be absolutely unequivocal: rejecting independence will not be choosing the status quo.

It will be the start of a new chapter. A different era. It must, I believe, be a giant leap towards our longheld liberal vision: Home Rule.

Liberal Democrats the present focus on Scotland's future is huge opportunity. It means the opportunity to deliver Home Rule has never been greater - this must be the prize of this referendum debate.

There is now an ever-hardening consensus between the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Conservatives over greater devolution to Scotland.

We have proudly led the way - Ming Campbell's Commission was out of the blocks over a year ago - setting out the detail of what home rule can look like in the 21st Century.

A Scottish parliament that doesn't just spend the cheque handed over from Westminster, but which has the power to raise the majority of its budget too - creating greater accountability and the power to affect radical change here in Scotland.

A Scotland that determines its own destiny, but is able to share some of the risk.

Just a few weeks ago Ming published the roadmap setting out how we get there.

Other parties are now publishing their own proposals - Labour last week, the Conservatives shortly.

And we absolutely welcome that. The Liberal Democrats have been advocating greater devolution for years, and keeping the United Kingdom together is too important - the stakes too high - for our parties to succumb to the usual tribalism or squabbling now.

So I am delighted to see the way that Labour and the Conservatives are moving. If we are to convince people of the benefits of ongoing unity between our nations, we must keep up a united front ourselves.

Where the UK parties have promised powers to Scotland, we have worked together and delivered. And if Scotland makes the positive choice this September to stick with the UK family, we will come together again.

The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for protecting the UK's place in the EU. Here it's an entirely different story.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party that is speaking up for the UK's strong position at the heart of the EU. We are doing so for the sake of our shared prosperity, our global influence - and to keep our nations open and engaged in the world.

Labour and the Conservatives would, I'm sure, prefer it if we stopped going on about it. They desperately want this debate to go away. It's too uncomfortable, too damaging - it exposes rifts and divisions both would rather keep under wraps.

The SNP, on the other hand, have made it perfectly clear that they are willing to gamble with Scotland's place in the EU.

And so it falls to us to have it out, making the case for staying in Europe and showing the British people what is really at stake.

It falls to us to get as many Liberal Democrat MEPs elected on May 22nd to stop Britain finding itself propelled towards the door.

Starting of course, with George.

Thanks to George Lyon Scotland has a liberal voice in Europe.

Unlike some of his colleagues from other parties, George goes to Brussels with the right priorities - not to oppose every proposal simply to make a point. But to deliver for Scotland and the rest of the UK.

George has helped secure billions in investment, cheaper fuel bills for families, less red tape for businesses, real protections for Scottish farmers.

George, for anyone who wants to know why we are better off in, all they need to do is look at your achievements - we are all behind you, let's get you elected again.

Unity. Togetherness. Openness. These are what matter now. Within our family of nations. In our relationship with our European neighbours. And we have to keep fighting for them - because they are genuinely under threat.

So Liberal Democrats we will expose the temptations of introversion and division - wherever we find them.

We will give people a reason to resist the lure of false patriotism - wherever it rears its head.

We will provide a positive vision for a prosperous future, filled with possibility - for every part of the UK.

Britain is at its best when we are united, when we stand tall in our own backyard, when we are open, outward-facing and engaged - and that is the Britain we will protect.