Sunday, March 04, 2012

In Full: Rennie tells Scottish Conference Lib Dems are guarantors of change

Analysis later - here's Willie Rennie's Conference speech in full. I actually meant to press the button to publish this when he'd finished speaking but you know me, attention span of a goldfish!

Here we go.

Donald Trump. He’s has been getting rather excited in recent weeks.
You may have heard that he has committed £10million of his fortune to thwarting Scotland’s renewable energy ambitions.
Donald hasn’t met my happy-go-lucky seven year old son, Stephen, but perhaps he should.
Puzzled by a recent call from a journalist about Mr Trump’s latest tirade against wind turbines, and the environmental damage he alleges they do.
Stephen firmly informed me. “No, dad, they don’t do that. They only swish round and round.”
Such a wise wee boy - he’s wise beyond Donald Trump’s years.
Liberal Democrats, I am not saying that every wind farm application should be approved but renewables must be a central part of our energy generation plans.
That’s what Liberal Democrats have said for decades. And it’s never been more true than today.
With fuel bills rocketing and fuel poverty rising we can’t expect the burden of protecting our environment for tomorrow to be borne by the vulnerable today.
That’s why our Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey has promised me that he will redouble his efforts to tackle fuel poverty.
That’s why I’m pleased he’s driving forward the Green Deal so that it’s not only those with the where-with-all that can benefit from warmer homes and lower bills but also those without the cash.
It’s also why we sought to persuade the Scottish Government to invest £250 million in insulating hard-to-heat properties. And we showed them how they could pay for it by using taxpayers’ money locked in Scottish Water.
We owe it to Scotland.
We owe it to the environment.
We owe it to future generations.
Late last year I spent a day with Turning Point in Glasgow. They help drug addicts – they give them a chance to turn their lives around with support that addresses all the issues in the life of the addict, not just the addiction.
Drug misuse is a health problem, but the solutions are not only medical.
Addiction is often a symptom of wider and deeper social problems.
Mental health, housing, lack of work skills, victims of child abuse can be factors that lead to drug misuse.
Therefore the support needs to address all these needs rather than the symptom.
Scotland continues to face a drugs crisis with thousands of homes blighted by the addiction, with addicts forced to steal, prostitute their bodies and deal in drugs just to get through one day to the next.
Drug dealers are the parasites that feed from the victim host.
On my visit to Turning Point I met Mary.
Mary has a six year old son who is cared for by her brother. Mary was in crisis but still had hope.
Her ambition was to feed her boy breakfast and take him to school.
For most this is the daily norm, for her it was a lofty dream.
Mary deserves an opportunity just like anyone else. She deserves a chance to recover.
I think we owe her that chance.
Too often moral rather than professional judgements dominate the drugs dilemma.
Every drug addict is different.
There is no one-size-fits-all-solution.
We need a flexible and patient focussed approach.
We should not seek to restrict options for moral reasons but ensure that trained professionals are able to deliver the service they think best for the patient.
I’m not sure if Alex Salmond has visited Turning Point in Glasgow. I don’t believe he’s spoken to Mary.
He’s certainly not championed the issue.
I am sure he cares about it. I don’t doubt that.
But the time that a leader devotes is a reflection of their priorities.
The leader of the Scottish Government needs to look again at his diary and make the time to lead on drugs.
Our First Minister prefers to court the rich and the powerful rather than the dispossessed and the vulnerable.
Giggling on the golf course with Donald Trump – who denies climate change.
Up the back of the bus with Brian Soutar. The man who denies gay people equality in our Scotland.
And now he’s got Rupert Murdoch on speed dial; inviting him round for fireside chats at Bute House.
The price for securing the media tycoon’s support was a defence of News International in the new Sun on Sunday.
Where the First Minister became the only person on the face of the earth to say that Leveson wasn’t caused by the News of The World.
Rupert, Brian and Donald – the would-be midwives of independent Scotland.
It’s too much time with the billionaires.
Not enough time with the dispossessed and vulnerable.
Being a Liberal Democrat in Scotland, being liberal and progressive is about being prepared to stand up to powerful vested interests, not cosy up.
It is often David against Goliath.
Our Deputy Leader Jo Swinson has done it with the cosmetics industry; the way they market and advertise their products.
So far, she has won four battles on advertising standards against some of the biggest names in the business.
She has led a remarkable campaign that gives young people more confidence about their body image and has put the industry on the back foot.
And freedom of information is awkward to those who wield power.
They don’t like it and they wish it would go away.
At Question Time last month I asked Alex Salmond to extend the laws so that people could get more power in their hands. The First Minister refused.
And a fortnight later we found out why Freedom of Information is so serious.
Twenty patients had died in Ayrshire & Arran.
Yet nobody knew if the lessons had been learned.
One man – a nurse - took on powerful players and won.
Rab Wilson. I’ve spoken to him about this.
The health board dismissed him as vexatious.
The health department paid no attention until the Information Commissioner worked out that he was right and all these well-paid, powerful people were wrong.
But my fear is that Ayrshire and Arran is only the tip of the iceberg.
I think they are institutionally secret.
But what about the rest of the public service?
We need a Scotland-wide investigation into the practices and procedures of every single NHS board, every police authority and every department of government.
So that we can proudly say that the institutions of our country are honest, open and accountable.
That’s not because it’s nice to do but because it really matters – learning the lessons from patient deaths, rooting out bad government and holding the powerful to account.
It may be awkward to those in charge but information and power is safer when it is shared.
That’s why I appeal to the First Minister today to commit to extend the laws to housing associations, PFI companies and the other government bodies that can cut corners and who can dodge and delay.
We deserve to hear from them and I want action from the First Minister to make sure that happens.
Margaret Thatcher recruited me.
Not to the Tories you’ll be relieved to hear, but to this party.
The actions of her and her party in the eighties drove me to politics.
I never, ever thought we’d be sharing Government with her descendants but I am so relieved that we are.
Without us there would be no tax cut for those on low and middle incomes, no £5 pension rise, no £1billion Youth Contract, no protection for post offices, no rural fuel discount, no Scotland Bill with more powers for the Scottish Parliament and children would still be detained at Dungavel daily.
Unrestrained, the Tories would govern from the right.
I am glad we have someone with the steel and vision of Nick Clegg leading our party and doing the right thing in the coalition Government.
I am not ashamed to say that I am pro coalition but I’ll never be pro Tory.
We’ve always advocated partnership, and now we have it.
I am for working together, for fairness, for creating jobs. But never for the Tories.
While our Liberal Democrat colleagues in the Coalition Government have been working to clear up Labour’s economic mess, we in turn have been serious about protecting Scotland’s colleges for the good of our economy.
I spent every week during the Autumn showing Alex Salmond and John Swinney where they had new money available that they could use to reverse their college cuts.
Week by week I made the case to stop the threat to 9,000 students, right across Scotland.
When times are tough, I want people to have the opportunity to learn new skills.
Together with Liam MacArthur I made a serious, constructive case.
And I was delighted when the Scottish Government changed its budget to reflect what we had argued for.
Forty million pounds is back in the Budget for colleges.
And they committed to more money for social housing and early intervention as we had suggested too.
Good for students, good for communities, good for Scotland.
We showed that our small group can still bring weight to bear on government.
We showed that strong voices, in the liberal cause, can be heard.
In fact I got this letter from the President of the National Union of Students to say thank you.
Liam Burns wrote: “True to form, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have been incredibly supportive over this issue - gaining such a win for college students helps those in the most need. Thank you for all your work on this.”
In return I would like all of us to congratulate NUS on such a powerful campaign involving their members and to thank them for the way they reached out to political parties to win a good deal for students.
And our positive, constructive work comes on top of the work we are doing with the Scottish Government on minimum pricing on alcohol.
We want to address the debilitating effect that alcohol abuse has on communities, families and health.
We were prepared to change our position.
We are prepared to work with the Government.
We will challenge the big business and vested interests who oppose this change.
People will have a positive choice in May.
Here we are in Inverness.
In the Highland Council, led by Michael Foxley
Where Liberal Democrats have met the challenge of tough times with a radical new charitable trust to protect services.
Where, by careful work with NHS Highland, Liberal Democrats have helped elderly people and children who need better care.
Where Liberal Democrats in Inverness have shown themselves to be amazing campaigners and great champions for local people.
And where the results of all this action and hard work were shown at the Inverness South by-election in November.
A Liberal Democrat gain.
A win from Labour. A defeat for the SNP machine.
Congratulations Councillor Carolyn Caddick.
Across Scotland Liberal Democrat councillors have been working hard for their local communities:
In Edinburgh they are building a better future for the city; cutting crime by 20% through a neighbourhood approach.
Giving new chances for young people through their Edinburgh Guarantee that gives apprenticeships and work-experience.
And prompting Scotland’s biggest cycling campaign to ask every council in Scotland to match the excellent work that Edinburgh are doing.
In Fife they have got recycling up to over 50%, to take climate change seriously.
And they have been judged to deliver the best care services in Scotland.
In Perth where they have met their 2012 homelessness targets ahead of schedule and they are building new council houses for the first time for a generation.
In Aberdeenshire where they have put education first, building new schools. And where they have won awards for the quality of their stewardship of the council.
In Aberdeen, where Liberal Democrat leadership turned the council back from the financial brink and where they are held up by Audit Scotland as an example to follow.
And across Scotland, brilliant Liberal Democrat councillors working hard for their communities: Alec Nicol and the fantastic Borders team, Paul Coleshill in Glasgow preparing to help that city make some big changes; David May leading on the economy in Angus;
Eileen McCartin, Ellen Morton, Ashay Ghai, Alan Blair and Stuart Mackinnon.
The incomparable Graham Reed a real champion for Stirling.
I want more. More of all of this.
And in every corner of Scotland, too many to mention, hard-working Liberal Democrat councillors, thanks to you all.
That’s us. Constructive in opposition and delivering in office.
I think it’s positive politics.
It is an approach that accepts that you have to work with other people.
It’s a generous approach, that recognises that people may have different ideas.
And it poses a massive challenge to parts of the SNP.
The SNP ‘heavies’.
The cyber-nats.
The people who attack personally anyone who disagrees with them.
It’s ugly politics.
And they will hunt down one-by-one on the internet those who stand in their way.
Faking letters from academics, telling cross-party groups they can’t criticise the government; telling airlines to downgrade Jim Wallace.
They talk-down Scotland’s place in Britain and cause division between people.
They are not one-nation nationalists.
If they are not careful they will cause Scotland to become a divided country, setting Scot against Scot for a generation.
My message to the SNP is simple: please don’t question my loyalty to my nation just because I don’t agree with your policy.
It’s not all of those in the nationalist camp.
There are many sincere, generous, liberal-minded people in the SNP.
But it is their behind-the-scenes stalkers and abusers who need to be tackled.
The SNP leadership needs to rein them in, to tackle the abuse, to overcome the division-creators.
Their leaders need to act. And act now.
Although I guess their leaders are tied up with their own problems.
They can’t even get their story straight on what independence means for Scotland.
Take just one issue: the currency.
They started by saying it would be a monetary union like the Euro. Then they turned on their TV news and didn’t like that.
Then they said it would be monetary and fiscal union with the rest of the UK, under-pinned by the Bank of England. Then they worked out that is what we’ve got now.
So maybe they are tempted by the monetary union like, say, the one they tried when Czechoslovakia separated.
And do you know how long the monetary union lasted there?
Six weeks. In fact, they started to end it after three weeks.
Czech and Slovak monetary union fell apart in little over a fortnight.
Foreign banks stopped trading the currency.
They had to put special searches at border posts to stop people physically moving their cash from one country to another in their cars.
And the Czech central bank locked 4 tonnes of Slovakian gold in their vaults because of a billion pound dispute, even as they fell apart.
Now, Scotland is not 1990s Slovakia.
But we shouldn’t believe that nothing like this could happen to us.
It did on Black Wednesday when UK interest rates went up to 15% as the speculators tried to wreck currency after currency in the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
That’s the power of international forces.
Play with them at your peril.
That is the risk.
And that’s the reality the SNP deny.
I think our strategy for the referendum should be simple.
We should set out the potential for Scotland, a powerful force within the United Kingdom, with domestic control through home rule.
That’s a good reason to reject independence.
And when Scotland does vote No to the SNP plans then we Liberal Democrats will have an important job to do in taking the country forward.
It may be that – after the No vote - the SNP can survive the ending of their dream. We and they could well be able to work together afterwards to shape a home rule future for Scotland.
And those welcome noises we have heard recently from Labour and Conservative leaders will need to be nurtured as well.
When Douglas Alexander, Alistair Darling, David Mundell and David Cameron say they are prepared to move onto our agenda of more powers for Scotland and home rule, we need to welcome that and work with them.
But be in no doubt. Those three other parties might say they want home rule but they are only taking their first, hesitant, infant steps.
We will need to be the ones who bring people together and bring people along.
We will be the guarantors of change.
Liberal Democrats have wanted home rule for a hundred years.
Asquith’s government passed a Bill in 1913 to create a Scottish Parliament but the First World War stopped it becoming law.
Russell Johnston and Jo Grimond told the Kilbrandon Commission back in the 1970s that a federal system would serve every nation in the UK well – sharing the risks and sharing the wins.
David Steel, Rae Michie, Jim Wallace and Malcolm Bruce worked hard on the Constitutional Convention to create the Scottish Parliament.
We made sure the Calman proposals transfer more financial powers to Scotland than anything else for 300 years;
Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government got a Scotland Bill into their first Queen’s Speech - expertly piloted through Parliament by our own Scottish Secretary Mike Moore.
And now with Ming Campbell and his team’s work moving further still;
Every step of the way, Liberal Democrats have led the way.
Our record shows we are the guarantors of change.
It is our job to convince people that a modern, outward-looking, positive, confident United Kingdom – a liberal country - will mean that Scotland can be modern, outward-looking, positive and confident too.
Scotland with the powers to run our home affairs but proud to share the wins and share the risks with the United Kingdom family of nations.
And so now, we welcome the growing clamour for change across Britain.
More and more people are saying that federal ideas make more sense now than ever before.
From the voice of Welsh Conservatives to the editorial pages of the Financial Times.
Converts to our cause.
We have broken down barriers between people and parties to build agreement on the way ahead.
And so, on the future of Scotland, we can be proud to say that when history chimes it will be Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrat ideas that shape our country’s future.
We are the guarantors of change.
And to make our case and lead the campaign we need a special voice.
I’m delighted that Charles Kennedy has agreed to lead the Liberal Democrat effort in the forthcoming referendum.
Who better to lead our effort, to make our case?
And it is all of our jobs now to show people how much they agree with us.
Whether it is home rule – a strong Scotland within the United Kingdom. People agree with us.
Whether it is standing up against the cuts to colleges so that thousands of extra people get the chance to be all they can be. People agree with us.
Whether it is about local councils that build new houses for rent, put recycling and climate change on the agenda; put schools first; and build new opportunities for young people to gain skills and jobs. People agree with us.
Constructive when we can be.
Awkward when we have to be.
On the side of ordinary people.
Punching above our weight.
Strong liberal voices.
Delivering for Scotland.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


cynicalHighlander said...

LibDems love commissions from Steel, Calman and now another one as none have given your predetermined bias, try setting one up on your own party to see if it has any relevancy in an Independent Scotland as you will never be pleased.

I hear that Clegg is applying to the Spanish to join the UK as he is married to one which is his argument for continuation of the union between Scotland and England.

DougtheDug said...


"Home Rule", as a phrase occurs six times in Willie Rennie's speech and he states that the Lib-Dems have wanted Home Rule for 100 years. (I assume he's merging the Liberals and the Lib-Dems there because the Lib-Dems have only been around since 1988)

Since the Liberals and the Lib-Dems have talked about and discussed the goal of Home Rule for one hundred years can you put a link up on your blog to the Lib-Dem policy paper which actually defines what Home Rule means? I've seen on Andrew Page's blog that Willie Rennie defines it as not devo-max but that still leaves me none the wiser.

I'd be interested to see what it says because I've no idea what Home Rule means. Taxes, legislative powers, executive powers, control of mineral resources, control of the sea bed and so on.

You have got a policy paper even in draft form haven't you?

Frankly said...

Letting the Grass Grow:


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