Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tim Farron: I envy you, Scotland, and you make Britain warmer and more compassionate

Being really honest with you now - I envy you.  I envy Scotland.  I envy your values, your sense of community, of collective endeavour and basic decency.  If you want to know my main, even selfish, reason for being utterly opposed to Scottish independence is because a Britain with your values is a warmer, compassionate and caring place to be. 
So said Liberal Democrat President Tim Farron at Scottish Liberal Democrat conference in Dunfermline on Saturday. If that's how he feels, then no wonder he keeps going on about how the part of the world he represents was actually in Scotland in the 13th century.
His speech was exactly what you would expect from our effervescent, straight talking President. I, unfortunately, missed hearing it live as I was in another meeting at the time. That's particularly disappointed as he paid another warm tribute to Andrew Reeves.
He also spoke of our heartbroken he was when Willie Rennie lost his seat last year - but how Willie was exactly the right person to be our leader now.
I liked the section where he talked about political bravery, contrasting Ed Miliband's claims to have stood up to Murdoch to the really tough stuff we're having to do to clean up their mess and Charles Kennedy's bravery in standing up against the Iraq War.
And don’t forget, Labour didn’t leave Mr Murdoch’s pocket of their own free will, they didn’t see the light and repent, no, Labour only exited Murdoch’s pocket when Murdoch chucked them out like some half-sucked humbug, pathetic and discarded. Just 3 months ago Ed and his front bench team were at Rupert Murdoch’s summer garden party, schmoozing away, presumably trying to think of ingenious ways of getting back into his pocket?  Very  brave, Ed, very brave!
 It was a typical Farron barnstormer that went down very well. And he didn't make his speech and disappear off. He stayed right to the end - but more of that later.

In the meantime, here's the speech in full:
It is wonderful to be here, for those who don’t know me, I'm that bloke who defies all the logic of the venn diagram by being ginger, on Border TV all the time, but not actually Scottish. 
For those of us in Cumbria, sharing a TV region with the south of Scotland makes for a more balanced view of the world. 
Until recently, Border used to cover the Isle of Man too – where else could you get a relatively small regional TV station that covered Holyrood, Westminster and the Manx House of Keys? What a fantastic cultural mix!
Which is why folks in the Scottish borders and Cumbria are renowned across the world for being hugely cosmopolitan and urbane.
My patch is at the south of Cumbria, but I spent election night this May in Carlisle, within sight of Scotland. 
My job on election night was to be the Lib Dem spokesperson on the TV and radio as the results from across the UK came in.
It was a long night. 
There is nothing more ridiculous than a politician whose party has taken a pasting going on the telly on election night and pretending its all gone fine really. 
Well, even though ridicule is nothing to be scared of, I simply couldn’t do that.  
I wasn’t going to explain away the results here in Scotland, or in the English cities as some kind of collateral damage, midterm blues, you know, disappointing but to be expected.  
Our results in May were not bad, they were devastating.  MSPs who have earned stunning reputations for standing up for their communities were ejected en masse.
The appalling statistics that piled up before me that night, weren’t statistics to me.  They were my friends.  MSPs right across this country, and local councillors south of here.
 So I was on telly with the task of spinning away those defeats, to make them sound not so bad.  But I refused to spin them away, and I still refuse.
We have to let those defeats sink in, accept the full brutal reality, allow them to hurt – and those of us from Westminster need to apologise.  To you. 
You lost your seats, because we failed to deliver our message. 
As your President, I owe you an apology.  I take responsibility. 
So what now?  Well, despite everything, this coalition is right for the UK, and it must last right up to the 2015 election. 
But look, I’m a northerner who grew up and came of age in the 1980s.  I get it.  I completely understand why its cost us.
We could have avoided going into coalition but only at the expense of a second election in October last year... which the Tories would undoubtedly have won.  
In that parallel universe the 5 months between the two elections would have seen market chaos, huge hikes in interest rates, tens of thousands of house repossessions, the collapse of thousands of businesses, mass unemployment, untold and avoidable human misery; and don’t lets kid ourselves, the Lib Dems would have taken the blame for putting our vanity and purity before the national interest, those who’d voted for us and hoped one day that we would take power would simply conclude that we weren’t serious and that we were only too happy to stay in opposition for another five generations. 
Instead, here we are, in the UK government putting radical liberal politics into practice every day – for how many decades have we dreamed of doing that? 
Those who helped build our success here in Scotland: Russell Johnstone, Roy Jenkins, Jo Grimond, they’d have killed to see the day that we took power, and they’d have killed us for complaining about it!
So there I sat 7 miles from the border in front of the TV cameras in the early hours of May 6th, witnessing a darkening black cloud hanging over the Liberal Democrats. 
Well, even the blackest of clouds have a silver lining.  Your silver lining was particularly bright.  It was the election of my friend Willie Rennie.
Willie’s rescued the party before, as Paddy Ashdown’s commander in chief in the West Country between 1992 and 1997, he made the critical difference as we moved from yet another serious flirtation with oblivion to the point that almost all of Willie’s electoral map was painted a glorious yellow. 
I was heartbroken to lose Willie from Westminster in 2010 – but our loss is your gain, you could not have hoped in your wildest dreams for a better person to lead you from defeat to recovery to success than Willie. 
And doesn’t Alex Salmond know it! 
Willie is proving himself to be the leader of the opposition here, putting the increasingly centralised Holyrood-knows-best SNP on the back foot, tenaciously tackling them on everything from police restructuring to the role of the supreme court. 
Punching above our weight, getting noticed, confounding our critics, a proud Scottish voice, a real Scottish leader, our Willie, more and more I cannot help but see Willie and think of Paddy Ashdown whose energy, campaigning zeal and human, common touch saved us and restored us 20 years ago. 
And just when we needed him, Willie is the right man, at the right time and we are right lucky to have him!
Of course Labour and the Conservatives are in the midst of their own leadership elections right now. 
The Tories might elect a leader who will then go about changing the party’s name. 
Those of us who remember the aftermath of the Liberal SDP merger will of course know that changing your party’s name always works wonders.
Now then Labour, they are having a few problems with names too.  It speaks volumes about how little Labour cares about Scotland, about how much Labour takes Scotland for granted that Ed Miliband couldn’t even remember Ken MacIntosh’s name.  
But actually, as I heard Ed’s speech, I was not amused, I was really angry. 
His biggest cheer came when he declared that he had been extremely brave in standing up to Rupert Murdoch.  Has he lost his memory? 
If you are so brave Ed, why did you stay silent during the 15 years that Labour were sat lamely in Murdoch’s pocket? 
And don’t forget, Labour didn’t leave Mr Murdoch’s pocket of their own free will, they didn’t see the light and repent, no, Labour only exited Murdoch’s pocket when Murdoch chucked them out like some half-sucked humbug, pathetic and discarded. 
Just 3 months ago Ed and his front bench team were at Rupert Murdoch’s summer garden party, schmoozing away, presumably trying to think of ingenious ways of getting back into his pocket?  Very brave, Ed, very brave!
Well I’ll tell you about political bravery:
Political bravery is standing up against the Iraq war while the Sun brands Charles Kennedy and every Lib Dem a traitor
Political bravery is standing up against an indifferent world community, and a sneering media, by calling for action to prevent genocide in Kosovo
Political bravery is standing up for a mature and positive relationship with Europe, in the face of reactionary drivel from the tabloids.
Political bravery is standing up against the deregulation of the markets and the banks while the New Labour and Tory press act as its cheerleaders.
Political bravery is recognising that going into a coalition at a time of economic crisis, is the right thing for the country even though it might well be a huge cost to you personally. 
Ed Miliband, if you want to know about political bravery.  There’s a room full of folks here who can tell you all about it.  Because political bravery is about doing the right thing, for the right reasons when it’s not popular.
Well I spent much of May ringing friends throughout Scotland, many of whom had been defeated candidates.  
And I was utterly humbled by your reaction. 
Unanimous support for Nick Clegg, utter loyalty to the cause, and above all, resolute determination to fight back. 
And the person who embodied that the most, whose tenacity and wisdom we could count on, who knew better than anyone else that our job now was to get out there and make our own luck, was Andrew Reeves...
Andy was a great friend to so many of us here – hugely popular throughout the party here in Scotland and across the UK. 
We send our love to Roger and all of Andy’s family.  We are unbelievably grateful to have known Andy, and we miss him deeply.
Andy was the epitome of the community politics activist.  And I am certain that our surest route to recovery as a party comes from a full blooded return to the theory and practice of community politics.
Community politics is about a lot more than just delivering tons of leaflets...although it does involve delivering tons of leaflets. 
Community politics is an ideology, it is a way of life, it’s about immersing yourself in your community because you care about your community, it’s a strategy for winning power, a blueprint for how you operate once you are in power and it is the ultimate antidote to going native and becoming the establishment.
And community politics is our ideology, it belongs to Liberal Democrats. 
It may have been aped by the other parties, they do the leaflets and some of the superficial activism, but it’s impossible for them to believe in community politics or indeed to be committed to communities at all when they are funded by, owned by and in the pockets of powerful vested interests.  
So let us reclaim community politics, let us be born again community politicians and let us start today. 
You can put off knocking on doors until the days start getting longer again, but by then it will be far too late.
Your local elections next May are massive. 
After the heartbreak of last May, this is our chance to fight back.   There’ll be many in the media and amongst our opponents who are writing our obituary already.  But there is nothing inevitable about defeat. 
You’ve got just 7 months to make them eat their words. 
Can I ask you a personal question? 
Did you get into all this because you really really love delivering leaflets? 
Did you sign up because of the hysterical glee you experience when you dislocate your shoulder sticking up stakeboards?  Or because of the unbridled joy of making donations that you can’t afford? 
Perhaps, but probably not. 
I’m going to guess that most of you are here because you love your communities, because you are determined to build a free, equal, tolerant, decent society, because you’re passionate about our environment, about fairness, about an open democracy, about internationalism, because you want to make Scotland a better place...because you are Liberals.
Let me tell you a secret.  I didn’t join this party 25 years ago as a smart career move.  It occurred to me pretty early on that I’d picked a hard fight to win.  But that I had absolutely picked the right side.
And it matters that we win. 
Just look at the desperate tone of the debate just now – witless bile poured on Europe, on human rights, on anyone who dares to live a slightly different lifestyle. 
I am an internationalist, but I’m a patriot too – we need to reclaim patriotism, and be sure of this: the most antipatriotic thing any politician could call for now is that we leave the European Union. 
And there is nothing more integral to the Scottish identity, to the British identity than a proud commitment to human rights. 
At this point, it’s really tempting to have a go at the Tories – but instead, in the spirit of the new politics, let’s be kind to the Tories, well to at least one of them.  I know he won’t thank me, but thank goodness for Kenneth Clarke! 
To be proud of Scotland, and of Britain is to be proud of our heritage, proud of the lessons we have learnt the hard way, proud of our shared values. 
How could we give encouragement to the Arab Spring, lecture the Chinese on their human rights abuses, demand the highest standards of freedom and liberty from new applicants to join the EU... if back home, we choose to undermine the principle of human rights? 
So if you value our proud freedoms in this country, then it matters that Lib Dems win, and if you value fairness then it matters that Lib Dems win. 
You see, at the beginning of April 2010, the Tories were heading for a clear majority at the general election, and then Nick Clegg blew the contest apart.  Nick’s staggering performance in the Leaders debates changed the election and almost singlehandedly prevented a Tory majority, prevented a Tory government. 
And so now, instead of Tory plans to give an inheritance tax cut to millionaires, the Lib Dems have re-linked pensions to earnings, instead of Tory plans to scrap the 50% rate for the highest earners, the Lib Dems have ensured an income tax cut for the lowest paid, instead of wasting billions on replacing Trident in this parliament, the Lib Dems have ensured that thousands of new jobs will be created through the Green Deal. 
Normally, if you vote Lib Dem, you get a nice warm glow from having done the right thing, if you are lucky you might even get yourself a Lib Dem MP, but you end up with 0% of the Lib Dem manifesto becoming government policy. 
In 2010, for the first time, if you voted Lib Dem – you actually got the Lib Dems!  You got 75% of our manifesto put into practice.  Maybe it’s time that we stopped apologising for the 25% we didn’t get, and get out there and proudly claim credit for the 75% that we did! 
In Westminster late last year we had a seminar for Lib Dem MPs and Lords. 
We listened to a talk from the Dutch Liberals about coalition politics and how it works.  Of course, there was Jim Wallace at the back trying to keep a straight face – talk about teaching grandma to suck eggs! 
Anyhow, the Dutch Liberals.  Of course, the Dutch are so Liberal, they’ve got two Liberal parties – and one of the MPs from D66, the more radical of the two, said (in perfect English of course!) ‘we have always looked at you guys (meaning us!) and thought, you are the largest liberal party in Europe, the largest but the most powerless. 
‘You had clean hands, but they were empty hands’.
Well, she was dead right!
So our hands are not empty any more, but what capable hands they are. 
Mike Moore, Danny Alexander, Jo Swinson, Alistair Carmichael a Scottish team in government fighting for Scotland, believing in Scotland, listening to Scotland, understanding Scotland. 
We are proud of them, and proud of their achievements, proud of their bravery, proud enough to burst to see Liberals in government.
And throughout Scotland we now face the fight to win in local government.  Lib Dems play a vital role in running councils from the Highlands to the Borders, Renfrewshire to Fife, we have an outstanding record running councils, and as energetic community-focussed councillors. 
But the Holyrood results remind us that an outstanding record isn’t necessarily always enough. 
Commentators say that in politics, when the weather is against you, you get swept away no matter how good you are. 
Well, thanks for the advice, but I’m not having that!
As we face next May’s elections let’s not curse the political weather, let’s get out there and change the weather!  Since this May, the Lib Dems across the UK have seen our fortunes change because we have chosen to change our fortunes. 
A new spikiness and independence in government, a resilience and bloody minded determination amongst our activists, and above all, a Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats whose punches are landing and whose message is resounding. 
And sure enough over the last 3 months, the Lib Dems have won more council by-elections that Labour, Tories or the SNP put together!  We welcomed back Cllr Mike Dillon who left the SNP in Renfrewshire this week to join the Lib Dems, Our membership has risen, donations have risen and our opinion poll rating has shot up from absolutely appalling to just slightly depressing. 
Look, you have a new Leader who is making his own luck and confounding our critics. 
It’s absolutely wonderful to see, but as wonderful as Willie is, he can’t do it on his own. 
Here’s a bold prediction, today I reckon that you’ll give Willie a standing ovation after his speech. 
And I’m sure he’ll be grateful, but if you really want to give Willie the support he deserves, then you need to go home after today and – we’ll give you Sunday off – but on Monday I want you out doing your residents surveys, I want you running around picking up issues for your next Focus leaflets, I want you locating your vox pops for next April, I want you to realise that trends are there to be bucked. 
Would Charles have come from 4th place to win Skye in 1983 if trends were all that mattered? 
Would Ming have won North East Fife, and Ray Michie Argyll and Bute both from the Tories on the night of a Tory landslide if trends were all that mattered? 
These are tough times, but we have been here before. 
Near wipe out in 1970, the Thorpe scandal in the late 70s, the disastrous slump after the merger in 1988. 
Every time we have done more than survive, we’ve gone on to new heights, but those comebacks have never been by accident. 
They have always been by design. 
It’s not rocket science, but it is a science.  So go home after today, and relish the challenge of winning across Scotland next May, starting on Monday, relish the prospect of upsetting the odds, of transforming our fortunes and giving Willie the results that he deserves and that you deserve. 
Being really honest with you now - I envy you.  I envy Scotland.  I envy your values, your sense of community, of collective endeavour and basic decency.  If you want to know my main, even selfish, reason for being utterly opposed to Scottish independence is because a Britain with your values is a warmer, compassionate and caring place to be. 
Your values have underpinned a radical tradition which gave birth to our party.   
And today, Scottish Liberal Democrats are in so many ways, the beating heart of Liberalism, we need you to keep beating, and to beat proudly and to beat your opponents.  

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