It's the first time I've seen Nick in person for a good couple of years and it was good to see him in buoyant form. I'd felt he'd lost a bit of his mojo just before Christmas, not surprisingly, but he radiated a mixture of serenity, positivity and belief and confidence in what he's led the Liberal Democrats to do at the heart of Government which was infectious and inspiring.
I've said for a while that we need to stop the mea culpa and be proud of the good things that we're doing in Government. That's not to say we become little coalition toadies, because there are a few things, mainly in the field of immigration and welfare reform, that I and most Liberal Democrats want to see changed, but we are making a difference - and certainly we're doing loads to help the poorest that a Tory or Labour Government on its own would never do in a million years. Labour were in power for 13 years, yet they never raised the tax threshold to take 900,000 people out of tax completely and help everyone else on low and middle incomes. They never did anything to make sure the poorest kids got an extra boost in education to put them on a level playing field. The Tories don't really care about the poorest, or about things being fair, so the fact that this Government is devoting so much time and energy into changing the system for good is all down to us.
Olly Grender was right when she said that Nick needs to inspire party members. Up here, we have what is undoubtedly a challenging set of elections ahead of us in May, he succeeded in that task and I have high hopes that he'll do that in Sheffield today.
There was also once a time when, despite the Federal leader being Scottish, there was a lack of understanding about Scottish issues in their office and communication with Holyrood was shockingly rare. Since Nick, and Ming before him to a certain extent, has been leader, there has been much more effective co-ordination and communication. Nick's speech showcases what the Westminster Government is doing for Scotland but also continues the themes from Tavish's about the key issues in this election.
Here's his Scottish speech in full:
It’s good to be back here in Perth.
Just twelve short months ago I stood here, in this hall, among you.
We were looking forward to a big election.
I talked about the challenges facing our country, the values held by our party, and the need to put our policies into practice.
The 2010 election changed everything.
A new politics, a coalition government, and Liberal Democrats in power at Westminster for the first time in decades.
And now you face an opportunity for change yourselves:
The next Holyrood elections.
And there is no-one better placed to provide the leadership for our party – and for Scotland – than Tavish Scott.
We heard from Tavish yesterday, and he left us in no doubt.
He is a man with the energy to inspire, the experience to lead, and the ideas to transform this country for the better.
He understands the problems and he knows the answers.
He has Solutions for Scotland.
Solutions that will that will generate jobs and get the economy on track.
Solutions that will drive up the standard of our public services by empowering local communities.
Solutions that will restore excellence to education and create opportunity throughout Scotland.
And when Tavish – and everyone in this hall – takes that message out on the campaign trail, I know it will resonate, I know it will hit home, I know it will win seats –
Not just the seats we hold now.
But the seats that are there for the taking across all of Scotland and from all of Scotland’s parties.
Alex Cole-Hamilton can beat Labour in Edinburgh Central.
Alison Hay can defeat the Nationalists in Argyll and Bute.
And I know that Euan Robson can take Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire back from the Conservatives.
At every turn you will have my absolute support.
But I also know that this election campaign looks a little different to the one that you expected.
The first three Holyrood elections were set against the back drop of Liberal Democrats in Opposition at Westminster.
But things are different this time - very different.
Liberal Democrats are not on the Westminster sidelines anymore.
We are at heart of government.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats are at the heart of government.
Alistair Carmichael, our party’s Chief Whip, in the job he was born to do.
And Jim Wallace as Advocate General, back in government where he is meant to be.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, getting the spending decisions right when finances are stretched.
And Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland, working across Whitehall, standing up for Scottish interests on defence, on transport, on welfare and so much more.
The work that they are doing – that the coalition government is doing – is difficult, but it is necessary and right.
And I know that you will be asked about it on the doorsteps during this election campaign.
So I want to talk to you today about the things that we are doing in government.
I want to talk to you about the decisions we are taking that are changing this country for the better.
Decisions of which we can all be proud.
But first I want to say a word about responsibility.
You know, we didn’t get to choose the timing of our opportunity to serve our country.
But that opportunity came, and we took it.
And we were right to do so.
This is not an easy time to be in government.
But that makes our influence – our liberal influence - all the more important.
We have not just seized an opportunity, we have taken responsibility.
We will ensure that the Scotland – the United Kingdom – that emerges from recession is a better, fairer, and more liberal place.
And what was the alternative?
To say it was all too tough, that we just weren’t up to it, that we didn’t have the stomach to take the job on?
But it isn’t, we are, and we do.
We are prepared to take responsibility.
And we will see this through.
Unlike our friends in the Labour Party.
You’d think that a party leaving behind the largest peacetime debt in our national history would show some regret –
That it would admit the scale of the challenge and be constructive in its approach.
Not a bit of it.
When it comes to the problems facing our country, Labour has nothing to offer.
They say welfare needs reform, but they can’t say what they’d do.
They say that that the political system needs change but then stand in its way.
They say that the deficit must be cut but oppose measures designed to achieve that and have no alternative to speak of.
Labour has gone from being a party of government to being the party of no.
No ideas, no direction, no purpose.
If Labour thinks that it can sit this out –
That, having created these problems, it can now say nothing, let others solve them, and then arrogantly walk back in -
then it is mistaken.
Our country is suffering from Labour’s neglect.
It must answer for its record, take responsibility and tell us what it’s really for.
Because no is not enough.
When we came into government last May, we faced crises on three fronts.
Everyone was aware of the economic crisis.
Not least here in Scotland.
A UK debt eight times the size of the Scotland’s GDP.
And two Scottish banks – RBS and HBOS – propped up but weighed down with liabilities worth twenty five times the size of the Scottish economy.
But there were other crises too.
A social crisis with the gap between rich and poor widening, with child poverty rising and with social mobility stalling.
And a political crisis with Parliament held in disregard, MPs’ reputations at an all-time low and a voting system that excludes most people and denies them the power to change their country the way they want.
Ten months later, not every problem is fixed.
You cannot reverse decades of bad government and vested interests in less than a year.
But you can make a strong start -
Setting the direction, taking decisions, getting results.
And we have.
For each of these crises, we have brought forward solutions.
We have turned Liberal Democrat policies into UK government action.
On the economy, we have pulled Britain back from the brink.
We are paying off the crippling debt.
And we are creating the conditions for sustainable growth, rebuilding and rebalancing Labour’s lop-sided inheritance.
By cutting corporation tax, by keeping interest rates low, by making the banks lend more –
By doing all of these things we can restart the engine of our economy and generate jobs for tomorrow.
Real, quality, lasting jobs.
And green jobs will take pride of place.
Nowhere is better placed to take advantage of that than Scotland.
With unrivalled access to wind, wave and tidal power, you are perfectly placed to lead the renewables revolution.
Very soon we will announce details of the new Green Investment Bank.
That bank will act as a financial gateway to green projects and green jobs.
And as Danny Alexander announced last year it will have a £250 million account, ring fenced for Scotland.
By drawing down the fossil fuel levy, the Scottish Government will gain access to these funds.
And Scotland will gain access to a new and sustainable future.
Not quite so popular.
I understand why people are angry when they hear about the super-sized salaries and bumper bonuses awarded to top bankers.
I am too.
I agree with Mervyn King today that the job of making our banks safe and responsible is not yet complete.
But I also want people to understand just how much this government has done to limit banking excess and get the banks lending again.
In the budget, the Chancellor announced an increase to the banking levy.
We will now raise £2.5 billion from the banks, every single year.
Not a one-off payment, like Labour’s bonus tax
Not a temporary fix.
A permanent, sustained tax on the banks balance sheets that will raise ten billion pounds in this parliament alone.
On top of this we have worked with the major high street banks to agree strict limits to cash bonuses –
To establish the most transparent pay disclosure regime in world –
And to extract a guarantee that the banks will lend ten billion pounds more to small and medium sized enterprises than they did last year.
So that’s ten billion more in tax and ten billion more through lending.
Money that will help Scottish businesses generate jobs and growth.
Yet Labour has the nerve to say that their 2.3 billion bonus tax raised more money.
Only Labour Party economists could claim that 2.3 is greater than 10.
It’s no wonder the economy collapsed on their watch.
But now that the banks have been bailed out, it’s their turn to give others the help they need.
On the second crisis too – the social crisis - we have been swift to act -
This April, we will raise the basic rate threshold for income tax by £1000 –
Putting £200 back in the pocket of every basic rate tax payer.
That is going to benefit 2 million Scots – with tens of thousands of them out of income tax altogether.
And as the economy grows we aim to raise that threshold higher.
From under £6500 now towards the £10,000 we sought in our manifesto.
Added to that, we have boosted the child element of tax credits, so that families will receive an extra £150 above inflation for every child.
We’ve announced our fairness premium, targeting education and support at the most needy families in England – with the equivalent amount of money devolved to Scotland.
And we’ve also delivered for the retired, the elderly.
Labour’s record on pensions is a disgrace.
The party that claims to stand for the disadvantaged wilfully neglected some of our most vulnerable.
A 75p rise was no help: it was an insult.
This Government will make sure Scotland’s one million pensioners get real help.
Our triple lock system means the state pension will rise in line with earnings, inflation or 2.5% - whichever is the highest.
This might seem a simple change but let me spell out what it means.
It means that a person retiring next month on a basic state pension will receive, on average, 15,000 pounds more over the course of their lifetime than they did under Labour.
This is genuine support for those who truly need it.
And will ensure that older people receive the respect and dignity they deserve.
Scrapping the earnings link was one of the greatest injustices of Thatcher’s administration.
An injustice that Labour failed to rectify in thirteen whole years of majority rule.
We have taken just 11 months to right this thirty-year wrong.
These are cash-tight times.
So it’s more important than ever that we spend more fairly, carefully and wisely, to target help where it’s needed most.
And that is what we are doing.
Then, of course, there is the third crisis - our broken politics.
We pledged last year to clean up the political system – to make it fair, modern and transparent.
And right now we are doing just that.
We are passing laws to create a power of recall so that people can sack MPs who have broken the rules.
We are setting five year fixed-term parliaments so that no prime minister can pick an election date to suit themselves.
And we will have a referendum on 5th May with the opportunity to finally ditch the corrupting, distorting and outdated first past the post voting system.
This is a small step which will make a big difference.
If the Yes Campaign is successful then never again will MPs be elected with a tiny fraction of support from their local area.
Never again will we have MPs sitting pretty in jobs-for-life seats.
Never again will we have to endure the spectacle of corrupt MPs fleecing the taxpayer, paying for duckhouses, because they thought they could get away with it.
AV will make MPs work harder for your vote.
AV will put people, not politicians in charge.
Every election in Scotland is now fought on a fairer system, except Westminster.
And everyone in this hall knows how long and hard our party has fought to bring an end to first past the post.
So I know that you will join me this May not only to campaign for the election of Liberal Democrat MSPs, but to end the disgrace of first past the post –
And deliver fairer votes for Scotland.
Fixing our broken politics has a uniquely Scottish dimension too.
You heard yesterday from Mike Moore about the Scotland Bill that he is taking through Parliament:
The greatest transfer of fiscal power from London since the UK was created.
Because this party – this government - believes that power and responsibility should be devolved from the centre.
That Scotland should be empowered to find its own solutions to the problems it faces.
That’s why I wrote to the Presiding Officers and party leaders in Scotland and Wales offering them the power to change the date of the 2015 election to avoid a clash with the Westminster election.
It’s why we treat the Joint Ministerial Council on Devolution – which I chair – with such importance.
And it‘s why this government has gone out of its way to put relations between the Scottish and UK governments on a better footing.
We believe in empowerment, we believe in responsibility, we believe in mutual respect.
So when you go into this election campaign - and people are asking what difference we have made to government –
You go ahead and tell them.
Tell them that this government is getting our economy moving.
Tell them that this government is getting the banks lending.
Tell them that this government is cutting income tax for those that need help.
And raising the state pension.
And investing in our children.
And driving corruption out of our political system.
Tell them that it is this party – this government – that has abolished expensive and intrusive identity cards, smashed the ID database, and restored our civil liberties.
We are the ones reforming welfare to get help to those who need it and ensure that work always pays.
We are the ones determined to deliver fairer fuel prices.
To provide access to superfast broadband in the Highlands.
And tell them also that we are the ones – this party, this government – who have ended the scandal of child detention at Dungavel.
There were four priorities on the front of our Scottish manifesto in 2010.
We are delivering on each of these and so much more.
We are building a fairer Scotland, within a fairer United Kingdom.
We are doing what is right and what Labour failed to do.
And with every Liberal Democrat elected to the Scottish Parliament this May, our party will be stronger.
Our voice will be louder and our influence will be greater.
We will build a fairer Scotland within a fairer United Kingdom.
And we will provide Solutions for Scotland