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Danny Alexander's speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference

March 28, 2014 5:39 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Speech from Danny Alexander MP at Scottish Liberal DemocratDanny AlexanderDanny Alexander conference, AECC Aberdeen:

What a week.

On Wednesday, I was at the great Europe debate, doing my Alan Hansen bit, post-match commentary.

By the way, didn't our boy do well? Clear, authoritative, passionate, relentlessly exposing the flaws in our opponents' case - just the way to defeat a smirking nationalist who will say absolutely anything to get his way. Scotland, take note.

I was going round the spin room afterwards - offering objective analysis you understand - when I was asked the oddest question of the night. 'Are you dying your hair?' The answer is no, by the way.

Then last night, I was speaking at Eden Court theatre, where I was introduced as 'the 2nd most famous redhead in Inverness.' Apparently Karen Gillan wasn't available, so I was the next choice! You can't win.

Well, on 18th September we have to win.

Just 173 days from now.

It is a profound choice.

Profound for jobs

for living standards.

for our place in Europe and in the wider world.

Not just for us, but for future generations too.

Many people will weigh these factors before considering how to vote come September.

But for me, there's another reason why this referendum matters so much.

It matters because this is about our values, our identity.

I am sure we are all in this room sick and tired of having our identity questioned by nationalists, simply because we do not share their misguided political obsession.

Each of us has different things that make us proud to be Scots.

Hearing Nick two weeks ago talking about what he loved about Britain set me to thinking about this for myself.

I am a Highlander, a Scot who has come into high office from a humble start - an island childhood, a typical Highland schooling and fortunate enough to use that education to get into one of Britain's oldest universities.

I love the people of the Highlands, self reliant but with as strong a sense of community as you will find anywhere in the world.

I love the countryside, fishing on the lochs, climbing the mountains, the gaelic language, yes even the weather. In Lochaber, there's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.

No matter how much the world changes, when you are half way up a mountain in a blizzard, the experience is essentially the same as it was 500 years ago. There's something reassuring about roots that run that deep.

That deep connection to the land and the strong collective desire to improve the condition of the people combined to generate a distinctive radical Highland liberalism that remains a hugely powerful force today.

And no one embodied that force better than John Farquhar Munro.

He was a true gentleman, a great Highlander, and battled as hard for his community as any liberal campaigner anywhere. We miss him hugely.

Kate Stephen will be a wonderful successor to him, and continue the liberal legacy that John F helped to build in the Highlands.

Lochaber High School is downwind of the Ben Nevis distillery, which certainly gave cross-country running in the rain a distinctive flavour.

Perhaps that's why I still like a little water with my whisky, a great Scottish product, a great British export, and a great pleasure to be the Scot in the Treasury who ensured that this government gave that industry the support it deserves in last week's budget.

But the Ben Nevis distillery is not the only landmark from my school days.

Twice every day, the school bus from Invergarry to Fort William passed the Commando Memorial outside Spean Bridge.

I don't know if you've ever stopped there, but it's a place charged with emotion, remembering as it does those heroic young men from Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, who trained in the glens I grew up in, to fight for the values of Britain, to liberate Europe, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. The inscription on that stone reads 'United we Conquer.'

If there is one place in Britain that for me symbolises the interconnectedness of our identities on these islands, that shows how the United Kingdom is much greater than the sum of its parts, it is that monument.

I am a Highlander, a Scot, a British citizen and a European. Nationalists try to place one of those identities above all the others. As liberals we reject that, because we know that each of those identities reinforces and strengthens the other, and that is why we will fight so hard to keep the UK together.

We Scots have played our full part in our family of nations for over 300 years.

300 years of the most successful partnership between countries the world has ever seen.

I love Scotland and I love Britain.

Liberal Democrats, we must defend against any conscious uncoupling of that great relationship.

Make no mistake, in terms of the history of our country, we are at 5 minutes to midnight.

There has never been a more important time for liberalism to come to the fore in our national life.

We know that nationalism and separatism puts barriers between people.

It is narrow in character and limited in vision.

It emphasises what is different between us - not what unites us.

Liberalism is about tearing those barriers down.

And I want our home,

our country,

to be open minded and forward looking.

To take a leading role in shaping the future of these islands.

And, yes, this must mean more powers to shape our own future.

Willie Rennie has led the debate for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

He has been the voice of the majority of Scots who want more powers, more change, more progress.

We have delivered before and when we have secured Scotland in the United Kingdom we will deliver again.

Being together gives strength to our security. Our Scottish voice is heard as part of a strong United Kingdom playing a central role in Europe.

Being together also gives us financial strength.

The strength to withstand financial crises and the strength to build a stronger economic future.

Just, for a moment, imagine we had not been in partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom in 2008 when the bottom fell out of our economy inflicting huge damage on two of our largest banks.

Six years on from the crash, we are only now emerging from that deep recession.

The recovery that is now underway is the most recent example of what Scotland can achieve as part of the UK, with Scottish Liberal Democrats at the helm.

Conference, we took the decision as a Party in 2010 form the coalition - because stability was the pre-requisite for a long term economic plan to fix the economy.

But we wanted to do more. Fix the economy, and fix it fairly. A stronger economy, and a fairer society.

Our Liberal Democrat values and ideas run through every part of that long term economic plan that is now delivering jobs and growth.

Because we have Liberal Democrats in Government and because Scotland is part of the UK, Scotland now has the strongest economy in the UK outside London and the South East - because of us, Scotland is one of the most successful small countries in Europe.

Liberal Democrats in Government are leading the way in rebalancing our economy and rebalancing our tax system.

The combined UK economy is now growing economy faster than France, Germany, Japan, the US.

Because we are sticking to the plan and because we are taking the difficult decisions needed to fix the economy we are making huge strides to help families and encourage businesses to invest.

Our Scottish Liberal Democrat campaign to raise the personal income tax threshold has been won.

That's an £800 income tax cut for 2.3 million working Scots.

A tax cut fought for by the Scottish Liberal Democrats and a tax cut delivered by Liberal Democrats in Government.

We've achieved so much more for Scotland.

We've liberated pension arrangements for thousands of Scots.

We are unlocking the full potential of oil and gas in the City, and of renewable energy across Scotland.

We've helped create the climate for the creation of thousands of new jobs in the private sector.

And Scottish Liberal Democrats ensured this month's budget was a budget for Scotland.

A freeze on whisky duty.

Extra support for our oil & gas industry.

Money to support airports in our rural areas.

More freedom for those approaching retirement to spend their own money as they think best.

Lower taxes, more jobs and better pensions - liberal reforms, all delivered by the Liberal Democrats for a thriving Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.

The great liberal pension reform is only possible because it is built on the foundations of a stronger state pension laid by our Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister Steve Webb.

The income tax cut is a Lib Dem idea, we forced it onto the agenda, we made it happen.

A Conservative Chancellor may have spoken the words on Budget day, but we Liberal Democrats wrote more than our fair share of those words.

But there are risks ahead.

Uncertainty is the enemy of investment and so of growth.

Scottish industry and commerce is increasingly making its voice heard as the referendum looms ever closer.

But I want to look at the future, not just in terms of what Scotland will lose from independence but from what it stands to gain by remaining in the UK.

Just look at that income tax cut of £800.

The Liberal Democrats want to do more, to go further.

We want to raise the personal income tax threshold to £12,500.

In any future coalition negotiations that will be a top priority. It would mean a further income tax cut for working people of £400.

So a two term Liberal Democrat government would be delivering a tax cut of £1200 for Scottish workers - an income tax cut of £100 each and every month, benefitting 2.5 million Scots.

The SNP launched its blueprint for independence to much fanfare in November last year.

The launch was characteristically heavy on rhetoric, and light on detail.

In the end, the success of a Government is measured not by rhetoric, but what that Government delivers.

In Government the Liberal Democrats have delivered record numbers of jobs, falling unemployment, low inflation, a growing economy, record rises in the state pension, record numbers of apprenticeships and the largest income tax cut for millions of working people both here and across the rest of the UK in a generation.

Liberal Democrat policy, delivered by Liberal Democrats in government with the promise of more to come.

By contrast, if the SNP put as much effort into delivering change as they do into writing press releases about it Scotland would be achieving so much more

Just take the dualling of the A9, one of our main economic and social arteries. The spine of Scotland.

The SNP promised dualling in 2007.

But the stark reality is that not one metre of new road has been laid that wasn't previously planned by Tavish Scott.

More rhetoric. But after 7 years of SNP government, still no action.

But it gets worse. Instead of getting on with this vital infrastructure project, they are planning to install average speed cameras.

We all want the A9 to be made safer. And I support the campaign launched recently to highlight the dangers of overtaking, as well as other targetted measures.

But imposing average speed cameras over 125 miles will not relieve the frustration that is the cause of so many accidents, but add to it.

Average speed Alex wants motorists to join his go slow on the A9.

Well Alex, Highlanders know the best thing that can done for safety on the A9 so stop delaying and start dualling.

And then there's the SNP decision to close regional police and fire control centres - no more so than right here in Aberdeen.

The SNP has robbed communities across the north of Scotland of control over our emergency services and has once again shown their inbuilt desire to centralise, to control, to concentrate power in their hands.

But more than all of that, it is the SNP who are taking our home, our country to the edge of the precipice.

They've had 80 years planning to reach this moment.

And yet, they have no plan for the currency.

I've been clear that a currency union is not going to happen.

This is not a bluff, or bullying, it's a simple statement of fact.

A currency union would not work for an independent Scotland - the last thing you should do when embarking on the hugely risky and uncertain journey of a new state is give up the important levers to control your economy.

And it would not work for the rest of the UK - the Treasury advice is clear that the huge risks massively outweigh the modest benefits.

So it's not going to happen. The SNP need to level with the people of Scotland what the currency of an independent Scotland would be.

With no idea what currency to offer, the SNP economic plan is best described by the old gaelic phrase 'grot a dhith an tasdain' - a groat short of a shilling.

Looking beyond the referendum, there two risks to the wider UK.

Firstly, a majority Labour Government.

Put simply, the Labour party cannot be trusted to build a stronger economy on their own.

Labour are in denial when it comes to accepting responsibility for the economic meltdown during their term in office.

They are in denial when it comes to the recovery. Until they accept responsibility for the mess they made and show they have learned the lessons, the British people will not trust them again.

The second risk is a majority Conservative government.

Tories cannot be trusted to keep fairness at the heart of economic renewal.

And by pushing Britain into a game of chicken with our largest market in Europe, the Tories on their own couldn't be trusted with the economic recovery either.

Just look at the Liberal Democrat policies they try to take credit for.

The personal tax allowance increase,

The triple lock on pensions,

The increase in childcare support.

Talking about fairness is no substitute for delivering fairness.

Having the Liberal Democrats in Government anchors our country in the centre ground. A centre ground in which it can prosper.

Our message Scotland and to the UK is this - Britain's interests are better served with Liberal Democrats in Government.

Conference, history is the never-ending story of the battle of 'isms'. Of imperialism, nationalism, capitalism, socialism, conservatism to list but a few.

My contention is that our time is marked by the divide between the forces that promote being apart - nationalism - and the forces that promote the advantages of being together.

Fellow Liberal Democrats, the values of liberalism are timeless.

Seeing the best in others, not the worst.

Seeing the common interest, not the self interest.

Looking forward to a progressive future, not a divisive past

We've played our full part in the rescue of the Scottish economy within the UK economy.

We are championing the cause that our family of nations is Better Together.

We are championing the cause of protecting the millions of UK and Scottish jobs that depend on Europe.

In councils, in Holyrood, in Westminster, in Brussels.

I've never been prouder to be a Scot and a Highlander.

I've never been prouder to be a Liberal Democrat.

So should you be.

We Liberal Democrats have a track record behind us and enormous opportunities ahead of us.

Scotland has a track record behind it and enormous opportunities ahead of it as part of a renewed United Kingdom.

So, let's tell our story.

Let's fight for unity and for that stronger economy and fairer society that Scotland and Britain deserve.