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Alistair Carmichael's speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference

March 29, 2014 11:12 AM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Alistair Carmichael's speech to Scottish Liberal Democrat conference.Alistair CarmichaelAlistair Carmichael

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It is good to be back here in Aberdeen.

Aberdeen - the Granite City, the oil and gas capital of Europe, home of Scotland's premiere seat of higher education and home also to a football team that brought the city out onto Union Street last week in a fantastic celebration of pride and achievement.

Now, I don't think that even the most enthusiastic Dons fan would claim that their history in competition has been one of unqualified triumph.

But they remind us that no matter the challenges, no matter the reverses, no matter the disappointments - if you are part of a team that you believe in and are committed to then you stick with it.
You take the disappointments and you fashion them into determination and eventually you succeed .

Conference, Aberdeen Football Club turned their fortunes round with hard work, dedication and commitment and you know what?

So can we.

We are now into the last six months before Scotland goes to the polls to take the most fundamental decision that any nation can ever take.
Do we choose to remain part of the family of nations that is the United Kingdom, one of the most successful political, economic and social unions that the world has ever seen?

Or do we go it alone as a new and separate state?

Firstly I bring you some news from the front line - the votes cast in a mock referendum of young voters in fourth, fifth and sixth year in Kirkwall Grammar School and Stromness Academy.

In a 68.4% turnout there were 357 votes cast.

There voted Yes - 86, No - 269.

A margin of 3:1 for the UK.

I have to confess that one of these votes may have been cast by a young man with one eye on what the outcome might mean for his pocket money, but even so that is a remarkable outcome.

The young people of Orkney are, of course, a special bunch but in this respect they have shown that they are not much different from young people in other parts of Scotland.

Their vote follows similar referendums across Aberdeenshire's schools, at Glasgow University and elsewhere which have all produced very similar results.

None of them surprises me.

As a parent of two teenage boys I observe that they are growing up in a very different world from that which I knew.

When I was growing up my interaction with people in other parts of the world involved writing to a pen pal living in one of the South African Homelands.

Every four or five weeks I would send off a letter written on special, tissue thin paper by airmail.

By contrast, theirs is a world of e-mail, Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, Snapchat and more that I would barely understand.

A world where boundaries are there to be ignored and where idea of putting up borders and barriers is as quaint and irrelevant to them as the steam engine was to me.

To an ever more internationalist generation, growing up in a globalised community, the concept of nationalism simply does not compute.

And, you know what? I think that is great.

Thanks to technology, our next generation has the chance to grow up in a liberal world and we should celebrate it.

I want also today to look to what might lie behind the 18th September for us all as Scots, whatever the outcome.

A referendum by its nature is a divisive exercise - but it need not be a poisonous one.

With six months still to go we need to consider how we should use this referendum as a force to unite us rather than to divide us.

At its best this referendum can be cathartic for Scotland.

It can clear the air.

A positive vote to stick with the UK family will not only provide certainty and stability for Scotland.

It will unplug the constitutional blockage and open the way to real progress for people.

No more arguing over numbers and projections but real freedom to innovate and improve people's lives.

For all that the SNP may hate it, Scotland is striding forward right now as part of the UK.

Because of the decisions we have taken, the economy is growing fast, unemployment is falling steadily and Scotland is moving forward again.

In government, we are cutting income tax for low and middle income earners, protecting pensioners with the triple lock and expanding access to childcare on an unprecedented scale.

And from 2016, there will be new horizons in Scottish politics.
Thanks to the Scotland Act - passed brilliantly against all the odds by my predecessor Michael Moore - the Scottish Parliament will have new powers to set income tax, borrow to invest and to innovate in far-reaching ways.

We need the debate to begin on how those powers will be used.
We need to start talking again about how we improve healthcare and education and the environment here in Scotland.

We need a No vote to liberate Scotland, improve Scotland and move on.
Sometimes in this debate it feels like we are living the plot of the Monty Python classic The Life of Brian.

Remember there the Judean people's fight for freedom?

John Cleese posing the immortal question, "What have the Romans ever done for us?"

Or as he re formulated it a minute or so later.

"Apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

As the Nationalists pretend that we can hold on to everything that we value as part of the UK while still walking away from it there is an almost pythonesque feel to the debate.

What has the UK ever done for us?

Apart from a strong and stable currency and influence in the EU obviously.

The strongest growth in the G7.

And record low interest rates.

And falling inflation.

A single energy market for Scottish renewables.

The capacity to rescue the banks.

The finance to invest in oil and gas.

A single jobs market with no barriers to employment.

The second biggest international aid budget in the entire world.

Permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.

A higher education research base that invests most heavily north of the border.

A single tax and regulation system that creates 200,000 jobs in finance alone.

And a strong Scottish Parliament that gives people in Scotland the best of both worlds.

You know, being in government has shaped the way our party is seen -sometimes fairly, sometimes not.

But something that really has changed is that people see that the Liberal Democrats are a party of economic credibility.

That matters.

Not just for elections, but because we have had the chance to show that we can guide our country through the storm and towards better times.

The economy matters.

Not in the abstract, but in the lived experience of people, communities and businesses throughout the country.

Other parties may see it differently.

We certainly do not see business success in the same way that the Conservatives do.

We would never seek to trash the rights of employees in the name of business in the way that they wanted to do with the Beecroft proposals.

We do not see it through an ideological prism about the innate superiority of private enterprise over public service.
We understand the need for and value in both.

And that the first allows us to have the second.

Good, strong businesses create the jobs we want and pay for the services we need here in Scotland.

I know - I have worked in both the public and the private sectors.
As a solicitor I worked both as a Procurator Fiscal Depute and as a defence agent and I saw some outstanding examples of hard work and commitment in both.

To suggest that one was more necessary or worthwhile than the other demonstrates an inability to understand properly either of them.
But I tell you this, people in Scotland's communities really do understand.

I am constantly struck as I travel around Scotland at the place that business has at the heart of our communities.

It comes in many shapes and forms.

It may be fantastic social enterprise companies like the Engine Shed in Edinburgh that I visited in my first week in this job and which does outstanding work helping young people with learning disabilities into employment.

It may be a new but growing company like Angelic Gluten Free, still in its early days but already looking for export opportunities.

Or it may be one of the world's leading engineering companies like the Weir Group - taking Scottish Engineering Excellence around the world.
Liberal Democrats have always valued the importance of business to our communities.

I want our manifesto for the general election next year to have at its heart a liberal democrat offer to business.

We have never been better placed to do it.

As a party of government we are the party that offers business the stability to grow and prosper.

To provide the stability and prosperity that our communities need.
In Britain. In Europe. In work.

Not just a slogan but our unique offer to the people of Scotland as we emerge from one of the most difficult periods our country has ever known economically.

Conference, being in government has changed this party.

We should not be afraid to admit it.

We should celebrate it.

Because being a party of government offers us opportunities to make the difference to the lives of our fellow citizens that in opposition we could only dream about and talk about.

But for all we have changed, at our heart and in our liberal soul we remain the same.

We may a party of government but, I tell you this, we shall never be part of the establishment.

We seek power and wield it - not as an end in itself - but as a tool to achieve those things that matter to us most.

Building a fair free open Scotland.

A Scotland where none is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
A Scotland that is in Britain, in Europe and in work.

That is our vision.

This is our moment.

Now let's get out there and make it happen.