So said Willie Rennie in the debate on Scotland’s future yesterday. The Holyrood Parliament was discussing the following motion:
That the Parliament agrees that Scotland should be an independent country; sees it as the responsibility of this generation to hand over a better country to the next generation than the one inherited, and believes that it is vital for the people of Scotland to take full responsibility for the decisions about the future of Scotland.
It will come as no surprise to learn that the Holyrood Parliament, with an SNP overall majority, passed this motion. It strikes me as strange that they were even debating it, given that the real decision will be made by the people in the Referendum around 27 months’ time.
I am always getting told by people who support independence that nobody ever advances anything positive in favour of the UK staying together. Well, Willie Rennie made a good case in the debate. Here is his speech in full.
What I don’t get is why those who want to split up the UK are so sure that we wouldn’t enter into illegal wars. Spain did. Don’t you remember that rainy press conference I think at George W’s Texas ranch where the Spanish PM stood shoulder to shoulder with Blair and Bush? The idea that bad things wouldn’t happen because we’d be independent is a fallacy. There are corruption scandals and abuses of power all over the world in big countries and small. What I want to see is a Scotland where liberal values flourish – and that can be achieved either way. I just want to see us concentrate our energies on building the sort of society that we speak about in the Preamble to our Constitution which begins:
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.
You’ve got to admit, it’s a bit more stirring than the Declaration of Cineworld.
Anyway, over to Willie
The SNP often says that it is normal to be a small country, which I do not deny. Denmark, Norway, Ireland and many other countries are small. However, it is not normal to break up a modern successful country in order to be small. I hear muttering from SNP members. We are going through tough times now, but to say that the United Kingdom is not a modern successful country is to decry what we have achieved together as the United Kingdom.
Mark McDonald: Willie Rennie says that he believes that more powers should be devolved. What powers does he believe should not be devolved? How does he define those powers and will he explain why such decisions should not be entrusted to the people of Scotland?
Willie Rennie: Mark McDonald misses the point in the language that he uses. I believe in sharing, partnership and working together when that is appropriate. I will describe later some of the things that we have done well together as the United Kingdom.
We should devolve more of the domestic agenda and we should have much more control over our finances, so that we can do things here and we are not limited by other people’s priorities. That does not mean that I want everything here but, just because I do not want everything here, that does not mean that I do not trust Scots to make decisions. The SNP completely misunderstands that fundamental point.
Kenneth Gibson said that we have compared Scotland to Bangladesh and other countries. The problem is that no modern successful country wants to break itself up. The reality is that all the countries that have broken themselves up after the second world war have been involved in communism or war. Of course, I am not saying that Scotland is a war-torn country; I am saying that it is the exact opposite. Because we are modern and successful, we should not break up the United Kingdom. The countries that broke up had nothing left before they broke up. That was why it was easy for them to break up.
The United Kingdom has 15,000 treaties with other countries. We have global regulations and we are a complex organisation that is connected with the rest of the world. Breaking that up would be difficult, which is why nobody else has done that. No other modern successful country has broken up.
Another key argument of the SNP is about control and the belief that, just by taking all the decisions ourselves, we would somehow have control. That ignores the fact that we have global markets and that we rely on co-operation and partnership. We want to influence other people, which is why we pool sovereignty.
We want to influence other people, which is why we come together to make the better world that we all want. Just doing things ourselves will not suddenly make things better. England will not suddenly disappear if Scotland goes independent—England will still be there and will still be a force. As long as that is the case, I want to influence our neighbours and work together in partnership.
I will look at some of the things that we have achieved together. We have one of the biggest international development budgets that the United Kingdom has ever had. It is a force for good throughout the world and we are respected throughout the world for what we achieve in international development. I do not want to lose influence over that budget. Despite the Iraq war, I agree with Humza Yousaf about the Iraq war—it was the wrong decision and it was illegal. However, I reach a different conclusion from him. I want to influence what is one of the strongest defence forces in the world and one of the biggest defence forces in Europe.
In foreign affairs, we have embassies throughout the world that have a big impact on the rest of the world. Let us maintain our influence on them.
Of course, we do not get it all our own way—I understand that—but it is much better to be involved, to be in partnership, to work together and to influence what our neighbours are doing. What is great about the United Kingdom is that we take the rough with the smooth and we work together in partnership.
For us, home rule is about devolving much more power to the Scottish Parliament. We have a strong record that we have built over a long period.
We worked together with the Labour Party to deliver the Scottish Parliament, the Scotland Act 1998 and many more powers. With that, we get the best of both worlds: we can work in partnership and have more control while maintaining our influence.
That is the best of the United Kingdom and that is what we should maintain.