Saturday, August 31, 2013

In full: Willie Rennie: We need a new Claim of Right to deliver a powerful Scotland in the UK

The full text of Willie Rennie's speech in Glasgow today in which he called on the party leaders to develop a joint declaration on future constitutional change after a no vote for independence. 
One of the reasons that people have given support to the Liberal Democrats in Scotland is our steadfast support for a powerful Scottish Parliament.  The Scottish Parliament exists, in part, because of the efforts of Liberal Democrats and Liberals.
In 1879 William Gladstone addressed an audience of thousands in the newly built St. Andrew’s Hall only a few hundred metres from this very hall.  It was part of the famous and victorious Midlothian Campaign in which he first extolled the virtues of local power and Home Rule.
We can almost hear the echoes of history.
But I want to talk about making history.
When Ming Campbell first stood for election in North East Fife in 1979 it was just after the devolution referendum. The prospect of a Scottish Parliament seemed a long way off.
But now, today, we have a Scottish Parliament and a new chance to take it forward.
Almost a year ago Ming and I launched our party’s proposals for a more powerful Scottish Parliament, within a federal United Kingdom. We set out how the Scottish Parliament could gain new powers and responsibilities ahead of changes across the rest of Britain.
Since we published Federalism: the best future for Scotland things have moved on.  
The leaders of the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour have taken big steps with their parties.
Think tanks, academics and non-party organisations have drafted proposals as well.
I acknowledge all of this effort.
But I invite party leaders to take this to the next level;
To work together to show we will deliver what most people want: a powerful Scotland within the United Kingdom.
If I think back to the giant constitutional leaps of the past, they needed parties to work together.
The 1989 Claim of Right and the cross-party Constitutional Convention took time but laid a strong foundation for our Parliament.
And think, too, back to Calman.
After the Calman Commission report was published there was an agreement to implementation from every party, followed by agreed wording in each party’s manifesto for 2010. That’s how it happened. That’s how the greatest transfer of fiscal power for 300 years was agreed.
These two things delivered the goods. I am now seeking a third agreement to send a clear signal that we will deliver a third stage of powerful democratic reform.
This is about how we come together and how to agree a natural destination, the principles of reform.
Reform Scotland has called such a move a “Glasgow Agreement” – a natural progression, and improvement, on the Edinburgh Agreement. I would sign up to that.
We need a joint leaders’ statement before the referendum; a “declaration of right” or a “new claim of right”, committing parties to deliver reforms to bring a stronger, more accountable parliament.
It will send a powerful and clear message to those who want a better Britain.
And give confidence to any who doubt it will happen. We can show that reform will happen with the support of the people, secured at the 2015 General Election.
Two years. Two powerful votes.
A vote in favour of the UK in 2014 and a vote for a more powerful Scottish Parliament in 2015.

For Liberals a vote in favour of Scotland remaining part of Britain doesn’t mean no change to Britain. We want Britain to be better, work better and Scotland to play a full part in its success.
In some sense September 19th 2014 is a more important day than September 18th, the referendum day itself. All parts of Scotland, however they voted will need to come together. Part of this will be the confidence that if there is a No vote, the process will already be underway to secure a stronger Scottish Parliament.
This is democratic change.
It will deliver what most people in Scotland want, a powerful Scotland within the United Kingdom.
It is also a process of change that Liberals, from the 1960s and Russell Johonston, David Steel, Malcolm Bruce, Charles Kennedy, Jim Wallace and Ming Campbell have led.
I will play my part in leading for our party in the opportunities that present themselves.

This is, from a Liberal perspective, a stronger Scotland and stronger communities. We should shout loudly about how we all benefit from that.
I believe that the three significant advantages of our partnership with the rest of the United Kingdom are economic strength, social equity and global clout.  Although these have ebbed and flowed over the three hundred years of our partnership they remain strengths that have benefited people across the United Kingdom.
These strengths have enabled Scots to achieve more and I believe that independence would hold Scots back.
Whether it be individual Scots who have made it on the world stage.
Or everyone who has benefited from the creation of the welfare state, pension or NHS
Or the financial security we have through the diverse economy and industries that pay taxes
there is little doubt that there are advantages to the United Kingdom.
A country that is so caring for the sick that it invents the National Health Service is a country I want to remain part of.
A country that has such financial strength that it can bail out the banks in a crisis is a country I want to remain part of.
A country that is so compassionate that it has the second largest international aid budget in the world is a country I want to remain part of.
If we opt for independence it does not mean that we stop producing people who achieve and thrive but I believe that it is easier to reach your potential working together as part of the United Kingdom.
But we are restless, we are reformers, we want a better Britain.  A better Britain with power resting where it is best exercised.  A better Britain with home rule.
As Liberals we have a natural suspicion of unhealthy concentrations of power whether that be in government, business or elsewhere.  We believe power is best exercised locally as it leads to connected and more responsive decision making.
For us Home Rule means a massive transfer of financial and constitutional power to the Scottish Parliament and thereon to local communities.
But we do not believe that constitutional change with Home Rule is an end in its own right.  It is the means to the end.  It’s because we want to transform society for the better. 
I want to give every child the best start in life to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty.  Not only will it enrich their life but also enable them to contribute to the common good of the nation.
I want to tackle the challenges that our environment faces with global warming and energy. 
I want to enable our society to endure with the ageing population.
That other great Liberal Beveridge had five evils: Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease. 
I believe the great challenges of our age are as big as those evils: poverty, the environment and a population getting older with fewer young people to support them.
It’s why I am a strong supporter of education especially early education before the age of three to give kids a hand up out of poverty.
It’s why I am strong supporter of renewable energy and opponent of desperate attempts to resuscitate failing coal mines.
And it’s why I am in favour of voluntary action with an enabling state that builds community capacity to sustain our standards of living.
I want to tell you some good news. 
With the support of the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust I have created a special project to support our campaign for Home Rule.
I have agreed with the Trust that this two-year project will develop plans to utilise the tax powers that we will secure in 2015 and through our Home Rule plans by 2020. 
In that time we will be able to set out a strong vision of how Home Rule for Scotland – a Liberal Democrat idea – can tackle the challenges of our age and move Scotland to be a more socially just and sustainable place.
I want us to set the pace, develop the ideas and win the campaign for the new Scotland.  Our country needs us to look to the long term – and that is what the Liberal Democrats will do.

I am sure when Gladstone addressed the crowds at the St. Andrews Hall he would be pleased the legacy of his Midlothian Campaign would endure to now. But he would be disappointed that we had not yet delivered that change.  I am determined that we will not be the generation that lets him down.  

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