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Willie Rennie's speech to Liberal Democrat Spring conference

March 29, 2014 5:00 PM
Originally published by Scottish Liberal Democrats

Speech from Willie Rennie MSP, Leader of the Scottish LiberalWillie Rennie MSPWillie Rennie MSP Democrats, at Spring conference in Aberdeen.

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Thank you Amer. I am delighted that you have joined our party.

Your reasons are clear. The Liberal Democrats share your values.

You aspire to be the best that you can be. But you also have compassion for the people who live next door.

You could say those were issues of the head and the heart.
Just like our country;

The head that we need to build a stronger economy;

The heart that knows this needs to be done fairly.

Amer, you have joined the Liberal Democrats at a good time; when we are making progress towards that ambition.

It's great to have you on board.

Head and heart.

This speech has been billed by the BBC as part of my sunshine strategy.

Positive about Scotland.

Positive about people in Scotland.

Positive that Scottish people can be best when we are part of something bigger.

And determined that Scotland will have a liberal party, the Liberal Democrats, able to challenge authority, to stand up to over-mighty government and to build a stronger economy and a fairer society where everyone can get on in life.

A party that will work with others if we can but will stand up for liberal values alone if we have to.

A party that makes the case for Scotland. A liberal Scotland.
This is a big year for Scotland.

Perhaps the Commonwealth Games will be in sunshine.

What an amazing event it promises to be.

We will welcome the finest athletes from across the world to Glasgow.
I am disappointed not to be taking part.

But I have discovered that coal-carrying is not on the list.
I am not the only one.

You should have seen the First Minister's face.

He's been disqualified from the special event, the hundred yards dash in tartan trews.

It turns out they weren't his trousers.

Gordon Brown is in for the fax throwing.

Ed Miliband will be there, if Unite pay for his ticket.

The only person who is happy is Ruth Davidson. She has been given a role as an official.

I am not so sure.

Should we really let her draw the lines in the sand in the long jump?
Perhaps the event that will be best for Liberal Democrats is the marathon.

It's a tough event.

You have to be in it for the long run.

We have some experience.

Look at the progress we have made.

Let's look at where we are.

130,000 more jobs in Scotland since 2010. A million across the UK.

In fact there are more people in work than ever before

Growth up.

Unemployment down.

£800 back in the pockets of people on low and middle incomes because of our tax cuts.

Pensions are up - with the biggest ever rise in the state pension thanks to the Liberal Democrats' triple lock

Childcare has been boosted - the biggest level of support ever.

Our opponents said none of this would be possible.

They said our plan would make matters worse.

It was tough. We were condemned for almost everything.

We were criticised for letting the sun set in the evening and for it rising again in the morning.

But we were determined to succeed.

The task is not over yet, but it is progress that has met the challenge.

We are taking significant steps towards our ambition for a fairer society and a stronger economy.

In simple terms it is eight words. Taxes down. Pensions up. New jobs. More childcare.

Without us in government this progress would not be possible.

There would be no balanced recovery without the Liberal Democrats
Our opponents do not share our ambition on manufacturing, green jobs, science, childcare, for a strong economy and a fair society.

It's our head and heart approach that is being delivered in government.

And it is the head and heart that should keep Britain in Europe.
Three million jobs in Britain depend on Europe; hundreds of thousands in Scotland.

Trade with Europe is worth £350bn to the UK economy.

As part of Europe we are part of an economic market worth trillions.
It means that a Scottish company that is good and efficient at its job can expand across the continent.

There are 500 million customers.

My head and my heart tell me we must make an unashamed pitch that Britain is better together In Europe. In work.

We are the party of In.

George Lyon has been a remarkable Member of the European Parliament in just five years.

Leading for Scotland, Britain and Europe in the Parliament.

Negotiating with Ministers to set the budget and be a champion for Scottish farmers.

I am proud that he is our liberal voice.

George Lyon is too good to lose.

Everyone in this party needs to raise their game for the European Election. Knock on more doors and get every single supporter to the polls on May 22nd.

And to voters listening to this.

If you want Britain in Europe.

If you want the jobs and trade that comes with Europe.

If you want a liberal voice to stand up for Scotland in Europe.

If you want all these things you need to vote for the Party of IN on May 22nd - back the Liberal Democrats.

And the man who has set out so passionately the case for Europe and the case for Scotland has been with us this weekend.

Charles Kennedy. It has been great to see you back at conference, such an asset to our country and our party.

Charles, you are right when you tell us that we need to make the positive case for the United Kingdom.

And there is a strong, positive case.

The Party of IN - the Liberal Democrats - is making the case for being in Britain.

Just like we are making the case for being in Europe.

In Britain. In Europe. And in work.

It's the head and heart approach that will win the referendum.

Look at all the partnerships we have in Britain.

We have a currency union that keeps the Scottish businesses I meet free from the costs and burdens of trade with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We have a university research union that means excellent Scottish researchers working on new medicines to save lives get 50% more funding.

We have an energy union where energy consumers across the UK help fund our expanding renewables sector here in Scotland - essential for our battle on climate change.

It means we have a single market with a single regulatory regime that cuts costs for business and boosts employment.

It means we have a broad economic and financial base that funds our public services, schools, hospitals and pensions.

These unions are great, positive reasons for the United Kingdom.
And we should be happy to say so.

We know these are positive reasons, because those who want independence tell us so.

They want to keep all these unions.

The unions on currency, energy, research, regulation and finance.

They spend most of their time arguing that only an idiot would want to end them.

Sometimes the nationalists say they are better at making a positive case.

The problem for them is that the positive case they make is for the core elements of the United Kingdom.

What a topsy-turvey world of the nationalists.

Independence means you argue in favour of the things you want to break.

But the United Kingdom must change.

It's one of the most centralised nations in Europe.

As liberals we have been arguing for more powers.

Home rule in a federal United Kingdom is coming.

It's the sustainable solution that Scotland and the UK needs.

Think back two years when I announced that Ming Campbell would be leading our commission on new powers for the Scottish Parliament and for local councils.

No-one was making that case but us. Now everyone is making that case.
Prime Ministers, Former Prime Ministers, Labour and Conservatives.
People in Scotland like the Scottish Parliament but they know something is missing.

We want the ability for our parliament to make decisions on hospitals, school and universities without asking anyone for permission.

With the powers to raise the majority of the money we spend we can have that control and that responsibility.

With the powers of home rule if we want to cut taxes for those on low and middle incomes, like Liberal Democrats at Westminster, we would be able to do so to help them in difficult times.

With the powers of home rule if we want expand nursery education and childcare we can allocate the extra money we need to give every child a chance in life.

To close the attainment gap.

I have been out to the nurseries. I have seen the potential.
Equally for every pound we spend we will be responsible to the taxpayers for those spending decisions.

I commend the nationalists for the passion in their cause. Whilst few fault them for that passion, few will accept that the route to independence would be a walk in the park.

Let me make it abundantly clear. When I question the plans for Scottish independence I am not questioning the ability of people in Scotland. The two are not the same. The nationalists conflate them, but they are not the same.

The Liberal Democrat way means that people in Scotland can be Scottish, with more power here whilst retaining the great backstop and insurance of the United Kingdom.

We can keep the currency, trade and renewable energy that we share between Scotland and our neighbours in the rest of the UK.

We have an absolute determination as Scottish Liberal Democrats that Scottish people should be enabled to be the best they can be as individuals.

We are sincere when we say that will best be achieved across the United Kingdom with all the opportunities that opens up to us all.
I have set out that pragmatic, sunshine case for Scotland in Britain. Britain in Europe.

Of course Britain is not perfect but it is a partnership that has provided stability and security for three hundred years through thick and thin.

As a liberal I believe in the power and the innate ability of the individual to do great things.

I don't want to hold them back. The United Kingdom is a great platform from which they can fly.

It's why I am for Scotland in Britain and Britain in Europe.

I want people in Scotland to be all they can be.

That is the positive case.
That is the sunshine case.
That is the case I want to make to Scotland.

And let me recognise some outstanding contributions this year.

Susan Leslie and Jade Holden for their superb personal efforts in Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath.

Alan Reid for persuading the UK Government to support our new air ambulance.

Mike Crockart for his campaign on nuisance calls.
To John Thurso for winning the rural fuel discount.
To Bob Smith for winning the argument on a Grocery Code to give local suppliers a fair deal from supermarkets.
Jo Swinson for her great work on pay day lenders and shared parental leave.
To Michael Moore - for outfoxing the First Minister at every turn on the Scotland Act, the Edinburgh Agreement and the referendum debate.
Mike, thank you for your tremendous service as Secretary of State.

To Alistair Carmichael for stepping into Mike's very big shoes and standing up for Scotland in Britain.
To Danny Alexander for fighting our corner in the coalition. A man of outstanding ability. Two million people in Scotland will pay £800 less income tax because Danny Alexander is at the Treasury on their side.

Sir Malcolm and Sir Menzies who both start their final year in office.
Malcolm as deputy leader of our party at Westminster and a highly respected chair of International Development.

Sir Menzies, whose clarity and purpose has set out the positive way forward for Scotland when we vote to stay in the UK.

Both are working hard with their successors, Christine Jardine and Tim Brett who are superb and experienced champions for their area.

To our councillors across the country, thank you. Not least here in Aberdeen where Ian Yuill leads a group faced with the most chaotic Labour administration Scotland has ever seen. I don't know how he does it.

And to the members I meet in every part of Scotland as we hit the doorsteps together week-by-week.

Our Members of Parliament - with your local track record and our positive national successes, I know you can win and I am determined you will win.

One person we will be without is John Farquhar Munro.

With his passing we lost one of the party's greats.

He was a great highlander and a public servant for half a lifetime.

We will miss him.

A thousand people at his funeral shows we will not be the only ones.

I've told you before about my ambition to tackle the poverty that engulfs too many people in Scotland.

As a liberal I believe that education is the route from that trap.

You will remember that Professor James Heckman tells us the best educational investment is made before the age of three.

My head tells me it's a good investment to expand nursery education.
My heart tells me every child deserves a chance to get on in the world.

I recently joined my good colleague Alison McInnes to visit nursery schools in Aberdeenshire.

It was wonderful to see the pioneering work led by Lib Dem Education chair Councillor Isobel Davidson.

The Lib Dems in Aberdeenshire are ahead of the curve.

They were providing nursery education for two year olds even before the UK Government expanded its programme.

It's why I argued that the Scottish Government should match what Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats are delivering in England.

40% of two year olds should get hundreds of hours of nursery education every year.

Nationalists in the parliament would groan every time I asked for change.

To give them credit they did change - many times.

First the government said they didn't agree that nursery education for two year olds was best

They changed their mind and said they were doing family nurse partnerships instead

They changed their mind and said it wasn't working in England
They changed their mind and said it couldn't be afforded
They changed their mind and said it could only be delivered with the powers of independence

They changed their mind but ran out of excuses.

There's no groaning any more.

They gave in. We got the childcare for Scotland.

I've got a message for the nationalists. Next time don't groan, just listen.

And I want them to listen to this.

Thanks to the UK budget and the improving economic conditions the Scottish Government now has the money they need to implement the childcare package in full.

I want John Swinney to use the extra money he has received in that budget to fully match the excellent work south of the border on early education and childcare.

He should make a statement to parliament next week that he has agreed to this extension.

He's just over half way there already.

Now he's got all the money necessary he can travel the whole way.

No fuss, no groaning, just do it.

Future generations will thank us for it.

If only the Scottish Government would listen on justice.

The centralisation of police turned out to be worse than we expected.
It resulted in more cuts, not less.

I have been on a night shift with Aberdeen police officers; and I've met their support staff.

I know the great work they each do.

But the centralisation has pitted police officers against staff members.

It has removed local power and discretion.

They have withdrawn from road safety schemes.

Over half the police stations in the country have closed to the public
Over half the control rooms will shut.

I recently attended a conference for police civilian staff.

It was packed full of deflated, angry people.

The SNP justice representative was barracked and laughed at by the audience.

A party that once claimed to stand up for the police service is now being laughed at for such a boast.

They have ripped the heart out of local policing.

The SNP also once claimed to be a liberal party.

But on corroboration, they abolished a legal safeguard and then recruited 17 experts to try to work out a way to fix the problem they caused.

Stop and search has increased five-fold.

Including 500 children under 10 stopped and searched without any suspicion.

And the First Minister says that he is "comfortable" and "satisfied".

My head tells be the best policing is by consent. My heart tells me children deserve better.

Scotland needs a liberal party, the Liberal Democrats, because on police centralisation we were alone at first;

on corroboration people agreed we were onto something;
and now on stop-and-search we have a fresh challenge.

No liberal party would act like this government.
No liberal party would take a wrecking ball to the justice system like they have.

Thank goodness for the Liberal Democrats.

Because there is no other liberal party in Scotland.
And conference, I can tell you today that we will put forward amendments in Parliament to the Criminal Justice Bill to put stop and search on a regulated footing;

To keep the police focused on those they suspect of crime and confirm the freedoms of the innocent.

That is the liberal way.

There is no other liberal party.

With the Liberal Democrats there is a balanced economic recovery.

Tax cuts worth £800 each.
Big big pension rises.

With a Liberal Democrat energy minister an expansion of renewables.
With Alison McInnes there is a challenge to the chaotic plans to remove corroboration.

With Liam McArthur two year olds get nursery education.

With Tavish Scott you get a real champion for our islands.

With Jim Hume a health service that transforms the support we give to mental health.

With the Liberal Democrats we are building a stronger economy and a fairer society.

With the Liberal Democrats we are anchoring our country in the liberal centre ground.

With the Liberal Democrats you get progress with economic recovery, tax cuts, pensions up, new jobs and more childcare.

With the Liberal Democrats you get Scotland in Britain, In Europe. And in work.

With the Liberal Democrats you get the head and the heart.